The StoicMom Project
The StoicMom Project
Driving Lessons or How to Disarm a Teenager
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Driving Lessons or How to Disarm a Teenager

SM's Journey: Reflections from the Trenches

Before listening to this episode of Reflections from the Trenches, I’d encourage you to read Living the Dream. I published that one purely for context for this podcast episode. 2018 was a wild, painful yet exciting, and precious year for the four of us; one that remains infamous in our family’s collective memory. When 8th grade started making our daughter sick, we pulled her from school.

What followed was a series of adventures—some I am still working to forgive myself for and some that created valuable awarenesses and precious memories. I was discovering just how challenging parenting teens was going to be, and I was determined to try anything that would keep my kids close and my family together.

black vehicle side mirror

I’d developed some pretty strong opinions of coercive approaches to working with children, and I explain in this reflection a bit about how the arrival of the trans cult in my home caused me to have to re-examine everything I thought I knew. I’m glad I captured many of these memories in writing. They continue to provide insight and also fill my heart with intense love for my kids and gratitude for what I’ve learned by getting to parent them.

Some additional pieces that I reference throughout this episode:

What’s Working

Embracing the Mess

What Hurts Most

Control vs Influence

And the transcript of just the reflection that I read (I give an introduction and wrap up the audio with some details and processing that’s happened since writing the reflection four years ago!):

Day 15 of the three weeks my family got to ranch sit for 3 horses, 2 donkeys, and 2 rescue dogs in the Bitterroot Valley :

“I love this SO much!” She says for the umpteenth time.

It all started on Day 5. The girl and I had driven into the city  to engage in what has become one of our signature shared activities: thrifting.

I’m pretty proud of the progress I’ve made at avoiding arguments with my teenage girl by quickly noticing when she’s being reactive and not getting sucked into that reactivity myself. I’m practicing digging for the emotion that is causing her tone, then excavating even further to discover the need she’s seeking to meet through her behavior. It’s tricky with her. She is 14 after all and driven to individuate, so there have been times when I think the mood and tone are purely to agitate discord. She’s also savvy and usually on to me if my tactics lack sophistication.

This afternoon presents a situation with her that is provoking in me my own need to be seen and appreciated. I feel myself getting triggered, finding it extremely difficult to maintain a calm presence, so I alert her to this then fall quiet. We leave the city to head home in silence, though she’s plugged into a podcast, while I’m processing my failure to find connection.    

Half an hour later, we arrive at the gate to the property, and she’s about to leave the car to open it, when I suddenly get the inspiration that will dissipate the negativity. I say, “you want to drive us in?”

“What?!” She responds in utter disbelief. She’s never been in the driver’s seat of a real car but she’s been obsessing about it lately, reminding us often that she’s almost of the age to get her permit.

This invitation makes her absolutely giddy, and after I open the gate, I give my oldest child her first driving lesson, and she moves the 2-ton machine a whole 20 feet. She’s over the moon and then proceeds to apologize for how she treated me in town, even articulately explaining the complex emotions that were driving her behavior with some embarrassment but knowing I’m not going to chastise or shame her. Success!

So back to Day to 15. It is the boy’s and my first full day back, after returning from our 3 day side trip, and it’s rainy and cold. My plan to hole up and work on my projects (writing, jigsaw puzzling, knitting) doesn’t quite play out as intended. Something goes awry with the girl’s morning coffee, and I remember that I promised the kids I’d take them back into the city for cupcakes from the cute little Bakery we discovered, and I have some other errands to run anyway, so I invite the girl to accompany me on this trip, offering to spring for a cup of joe.

We invite the boy but he declines. The girl’s excited because whenever she and I leave the property alone together, it means a driving lesson. Each time she gets to go a little further on the back roads that take us to the main highway and each time she says, “I love this SO much!”

She cheerfully accompanies me on my errands, we get coffee while at the bakery, check out another thrift store where she scores a denim shirt she’s been on the hunt for, and on the way home, she muses over the things she’s going to remember about this adventure. In fact, I have to remind myself that she’s a teenager because she’s also this truly lovely person that I enjoy spending time with.

Later that night, as I’m lying awake questioning the wisdom of that afternoon coffee, the light on my phone alerts me that I’ve received a text. It’s the girl, and clearly she thought I was sleeping so would be undisturbed by the text.  I text her back asking what she’s doing. She’s actually in the house on a bathroom run, so I sneak downstairs from the loft where both Hubby and the boy are sleeping, we grab a package of microwave popcorn, make a jar full of Italian soda, and head out to her freezing RV apartment with my laptop to bundle up under a comforter and watch YouTube.

We’re midway through a video she’s really invested in sharing with me and the computer alerts us to a dying battery. The girl says she’ll run over to the house to get the charger. When she returns, she’s breathless and informs me she’s going to walk me back when we’re finished because the sky is packed with stars!

Around 2am, we exit the trailer and crane our necks to “ooh and aah” over the starfilled sky. So few times has she seen stars like this, and I’m again flooded with gratitude for the many new shared experiences with my teenage girl that wouldn’t have happened without the freedom we’ve claimed for ourselves.

I’ve been thinking about how much driving represents freedom and trust for a teen. I notice the more freedom and trust the girl feels she has, the more I treat her with the same dignity and respect I treat the adults in my life, the more she acts like a kind, caring adult.

There were many moments I feared this Montana Adventure would be a complete disaster (there are legit reasons my son may be permanently scarred from this experience,) but the girl will always associate this trip with lots of thrilling firsts–firsts that reinforced that she is respected, trusted, and free. 

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The StoicMom Project
The StoicMom Project
At this point, I have embraced this destabilizing, sometimes excruciating, sometimes wondrous experience of having a trans-IDed child as “curriculum of the soul.” Because I can’t help but imagine how different the world might be if we could all take the hardest thing in our lives and view it as this, as curriculum of the soul. Practitioners of Stoicism might say, "the obstacle is the way." These are my conversations and reflections--along the way.