Friday, July 1, 2011

How NOT to parent your almost-not-a-teenager

My mom used to say to me, “Little kids, little problems; big kids, bigger problems.”

I never really understood what she meant until last weekend.

It was Friday, late-afternoon, when my phone rang. B was on the other end, calling from the speaker phone in his car; Kate was sitting next to him since she rides to work with her dad every day. This is an important detail to remember because . . .

Rule #1: Don’t discuss your daughter’s sketchy weekend plans with her sitting right there next to you.

B: “Did you know what Kate wants to do this weekend?”

Me: “Well, sort of. She mentioned it, but I wasn’t thrilled about it so I thought I’d wait to discuss it with you.”


Kate’s roommate was coming into town for the weekend, and the girls had made plans. Big plans. City plans. Plans that would have been great if it weren’t a matter of finding some random independent bookstores in a neighborhood that they had never been to. Or if the Taste of Chicago wasn’t opening that weekend with a crowd of about a million or so expected to show up . . . all at once.

Rule #2: Don’t mention parking as the primary obstacle.

B: “The city is going to be a madhouse on Saturday. The Taste is opening, and it’s going to be impossible to find parking.”

Me: “Yeah, it could be a little rough, Kate. You’ll spend all of your time trying to find a place to park, and that’s just frustrating.”


The big deal about parking, if you’ve ever been to downtown Chicago, is that there is none. It’s the kind of situation that will make you pray for a parking spot, if you’re that kind of person (which, by the way, I most certainly am). And during the Taste of Chicago, which is a super-fun family event, there are a lot of mini-vans crowding the streets and filling the parking garages. Can you say nightmare?

Rule #3: Don’t appeal to their sense of beauty. These girls are completely unaware.

B: “Seriously? You expect me to send you two into THAT neighborhood all by yourselves? You’ll have every guy staring you down.”

Me: “Yeah. Remember New York?”


Um. Yeah. Whatever.

Rule 4: Stay calm. At all costs. Do NOT appeal to your higher authority.

B (losing it): “Kate, we are your parents, and we will decide IF and WHEN you can go into the city by yourselves. We can keep you home if we want, you know.”

Me (trying to maintain an even tone): “Kate, we are trying to respect what you’re doing here, but we’re also trying to figure out the safest way for you to do what you want to do. Work with us here.”


We ended the phone call by saying that we’d talk more about it when they got home. Which they did, about 15 minutes later.

Later that night we calmly, rationally, quietly (sort of) sat around our kitchen table and hashed out the details of what Kate wanted to do. They wanted to visit three bookstores near the University of Chicago and then go to the Taste of Chicago, which is in a completely different part of town, which would mean moving the car, which would mean dealing with a lot of traffic.

O.K. Now, if I were going to the U of C, I would drive. I’ve done it lots of times before, but these were very precious girls who wanted to go, and one of whom, I know, doesn’t have the best sense of direction . . . even with a GPS. I almost suggested driving them myself, but I knew that wouldn’t fly, and driving by themselves wasn’t going to be an option because of their second destination: the Taste of Chicago.

No parking, remember?

So we suggested that the girls take public transportation. They could jump on the train right near our house and head into the city—that part was easy. They’ve done it a million times. But to get to the bookstores they wanted to see they would have to take the L down to Hyde Park.

Silly us. We just assumed they would take a certain train to a certain stop because the CTA website told us it was the stop for the University of Chicago.

Rule #5: Don’t believe the CTA website.

The girls headed out, found the L stop they needed, hopped on the train and headed to what they thought was the stop for the U of C.

Here’s the text I got from Kate a short time later:

“Turning around and heading to the Taste. Asked directions from a cop and he told us to be veeerrry careful. It just doesn’t feel safe.”

And a follow-up: “Got hollered at just one too many times. Going back.”


Rule 6: Don’t panic.

This mama wanted to jump in her car and head right down there to rescue those two princesses. But they are 19 years old and perfectly capable. Both girls have travelled extensively, so they know how to read a train schedule. They know how to ride public transportation. They are smart girls.

All this I kept telling myself.

But oh my goodness. My girl? Hollered at? In the city?

It was just a little too much for my heart to take.

A short time later I got this text: “Made it to the Taste.”

Looong exhale. She would be fine.

Rule 7: Check and double-check.

Later, when the girls got home . . . safely, I might add . . . we had a good laugh about their situation. Turns out, there is a different train that would take them very close to where they wanted to go. I would have known that if I had just picked up the phone and called my friend, Jane, who lives right there. (Hi Jane!) She could have told us exactly what they needed to do to get to the bookstores . . . safely.

When I asked the girls what happened they told us the whole story. They got off the train at the station that we . . . the parents . . . had told them to, but when they looked around they realized they were not in Kansas anymore if you know what I mean. They stopped at a Walgreens near the station to ask for directions from the security guard at the door (that should have been their first clue—our Walgreens down the street doesn’t have a security guard!). The guy told them that it was a long walk to where they wanted to go, and then he looked them in the eye and said, “Girls, you need to be veerryy careful.”

I don’t know what the girls said to one another as they headed down the street. I don’t know what they were feeling as they were getting cat-called. I wish I could have been there to protect them, but I wasn’t.

I just thank God that He sent angels to protect them and to give them the common sense they needed to turn around and go back.

Which leads me to . . .

Rule #8: Don’t forget to pray.

As a parent of teenagers, you can’t always say “Do this” and expect immediate results. You just might have to talk your way through a situation, explain your position, and listen to theirs. It’s a give-and-take that can feel a little thorny, scratchy, uncomfortable.

And, sadly, you do have to let them grow up, try new things, which might, inadvertently and never intentionally lead into some situations.

In the end, you just have to pray that God will protect them. And I’m so glad He did.

Despite our poor parenting.


  1. Oh Shelly, even your 'bad parenting' sounds good to me. ;-) Plus you make me smile so much with your family stories!!

    When I was in my teens the thought of 'every guy staring' would have been a POSITIVE, not a negative - despite my parents telling me it was a BAD thing! Haha!!

    Hmmm....yeah, moving on!


  2. Ah Shelly, went through this the other night when Faith took her boyfriend to Blue Man Group via train and L at night. happily it was Northside which I'm more comfortable with but it was late at night. I just kept telling myself - she's almost 18, she can do this. And they did well.

  3. Sarah, you're hysterical! Thanks for the little bit of insight into your teen years. :)

    Sheroll, it's hard, isn't it? You have to let them go sometime, but it's really hard. Glad Faith was safe. Next time won't be as tough, right? ;)

  4. Oh,how I can relate (not to the city part so much)but to the directionally challenged late teenager.

    And how come when they want to do something they are "almost 20" and if you ask them to do something they don't particularly want to do they are "only 19". Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm

    Great post!

  5. Oh my goodness... this is a story for the family archives!!!! Funny... now.
    Glad they are safe.

  6. So many memories coming to mind! The Taste of Chicago I went to with friends after senior year of high school in which it downpoured and we dripped the entire train ride home. The New Year's Eve in which I drove around my friend's neighborhood for an hour and a half trying to find parking, after it had taken me more than 2 hours to get there (accident had shut down 290). Or my commute to U of C on the Green Line, in which I got to know the neighborhood a little better than I wanted to at times- though it was definitely a different stop from wherever your daughter and her friend ended up!

  7. Oh Leigh, you DO know what I'm talking about! That's so funny.

  8. Oh, and you need to know that Kansas is, indeed, diverse.

  9. Oh Linda, that's NOT what I was implying. :)

  10. Oh boy, Shelly, just wait til she wants to go to Morocco with a girlfriend. (on break from Capernwray.) I prayed like crazy.

    Remind your sweet girl, that if she is ever feeling unsafe . . . calling for a cab is a quick out, too.

    You and B are great parents. . . these things are hard no matter how you look at it.


  11. I don't see any bad parenting in this story, just bad directions - which can happen to the Best of parents! My best friend from h.s. and I drove down to U of C almost weekly the summer after freshman year of college because of a boy (my boyfriend in h.s, now her husband). It took my parents a bit of time to get comfortable, but we stuck to campus and didn't roam. We learned to get around the city, to take precautions, and not be foolish. Your years of "intentional parenting" will shine through - Kate isn't foolish :)

  12. When I was almost 20, I was planning my wedding. But even still (or maybe because of that), that summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college were so hard between my parents and me. Since my kiddo is curled up on the couch next to me, singing Twinkle, Twinkle "Wittle" Star, I really can't fully grasp the parent side of this stage. But I definitely remember the difficulty of my parents and me trying to find a new balance as I really was ALMOST an adult.

    (However, I also recall that "I'm invincible" ridiculousness of that age, so I know that you and your husband are really smart to be so careful with your girls!!!)

  13. Boy does this sound too familiar! Let's just say I do lots and lots of praying:-)

  14. And I think potty training is hard! LOL Sounds like you did great--just enough balance with responsibility and caution:) I'm taking notes!!

  15. Ah, we are just getting into this new stage of adventure called parenting. It's hard to let them go and let them experience and learn. Our oldest just graduated from HS and oh, I struggle with "come on, be more responsible" and "um, okay, let's talk about this and make sure you text me when you get there." It's a wonder our kids are normal! I'm so glad you posted this.

  16. Ugggggghhhhhhhh. I can't even imagine. on the one hand, as I was reading this post, I was remembering that my mom sent me to college in Boston, 800 miles from home, and I had my own car and did what I wanted without asking permission. I took my car into the city plenty of times, went in on public transit plenty of other times. As far as I know, we were always in relatively safe places, but STILL. There are so many dangers.

    I think it would be almost easier not to know. Nowadays with texting and all it seems that parents are more aware of what kids are doing, which seems like a good thing, in a way. But wouldn't you almost rather not know? LOL.