Attachment Parenting Teens with Humor, Respect, Empathy and Win-Win Solutions: A Saga

I love my teen and I love the countless adventures of day-to-day life while parenting a teen. I love being a mom and being part of the memorable and silly, albeit unexpected, situations that are part of a teen's maturing process. I also love and find respectful humor in teen logic when they are so excited about trying to make something work that is going awry:

On Thanksgiving afternoon after a busy day with family and lots of driving, my son and I embarked on a drive to drop him off at a sleepover that he and two other boys had planned. I drove an hour (considered a long drive by New England standards) in setting sun only to discover that my son and the two other boys involved had loosely set up the sleepover without informing the parents of Boy #3, the home where I surmised the actual sleepover was to be held! However, that wasn't the worst part; the real problem was that Boy #3 and his family had left the state for the entire day to visit family for Thanksgiving! Boy #2 had no idea when they were returning.

My son has asthma and allergies and could not go inside the pet-shared home of Boy #2 who was actually home. Interestingly, I learned that the plan had been to hang out at the home of Boy #2 and then sleep over the home of Boy #3. To complicate matters, my son would be going into the recording studio over the weekend and needs his lungs, sinuses and throat to be in perfect condition. Risking going into the home of Boy #2 was not an option. It seemed my son had overlooked these details in his eagerness to spend time with these friends who had both been difficult to visit due to scheduling conflicts.

In my post-turkey-Tryptophan-induced-lethargy, I had not clarified the kaleidoscopic details prior to the drive.

It was getting dark and cold and I could not reach the parents of Boy #3. My son and Boy #2 tried to convince me that they'd "be fine tenting out on the lawn" in 26 degree weather tonight wearing only a fall coat, regular clothing, sneakers and thin gloves. I quizzically and curiously regarded my usually logical, mature and health-conscious son, surprised by this rare reasoning. I let him know that it was unsafe and I could not leave him with that arrangement, with no (allergy-free) camping gear, no bathroom and no clothing fit for below freezing temperatures. Empathizing with our teen children's feelings and with the urgency they feel to make things work out is critical to attachment parenting. Protecting them when their safety is at stake is also important. I'm thankful that my son respects my judgement when I say "no" because I say "no" to him rarely and I say "yes" to him almost as a default. Saying "no" is reserved for safety and health issues, with the goal being to find a way to turn the "no" into a "yes".

Although camping on the suburban neighborhood lawn with the risk of hypothermia and frostbite was not an option, my son and Boy #2 did not want to leave Boy #3 behind by having the sleepover at our home instead. I did not want to do extra driving by going home, waiting to reach Boy #3's parents to confirm that they were OK with the sleepover and then driving back (a total of four hours of driving) because I had planned to work on my latest book when my son was away. Driving back the next day would negate the possibility of a sleepover because of weekend plans and would not allow me much time to write.

A conundrum, indeed.

I worked with the boys to find a solution. None of the suggestions we brainstormed seemed to be win-win for everyone involved. We were about to settle with a less-than-satisfactory solution.

Thankfully, we finally reached the parents of Boy #3 by cell. This was an opportunity for my son to practice assertiveness skills by informing Boy #3's parents of the situation while still asking if the sleepover idea could be salvaged. Thankfully, our friends came through for us! We drove nearby to their relatives' home (who has pets), one of whom unlocked Boy #3's home so my son and Boy #2 could go inside to stay warm and hang out. This freed me up to drive home and work on writing rather than drive them around for an indefinite amount of time trying to find somewhere open where we could stay warm on Thanksgiving evening.

The boys were all smiles, I exhaled a sigh of relief that everyone was satisfied and we all exchanged "knuckles" at the uncanny timing... Thus, a happy ending: The sleepover was able to happen as planned once Boy #3 and his family returned home... um... four hours later.

I love being the kind of mom who was able to flow with each stage of this scene, from the surprising "discovery" that the plans weren't quite what I envisioned, to brainstorming win-win solutions that honored everyone's needs, to seeing it all work out. I also love being the type of mom who so loves being a mom that I was able to laugh at this entire experience and see the potential for it to be memorable and not get upset with my son. I love being an Attachment Parenting mom who finds joy in these parenting moments rather than seeing these experiences as inconveniences to me. My son and I remain close and deeply connected because he can see that I approached this and other similar situations with, yes, concern; but also with humor, empathy, respect and a genuine desire to help him make it work out for everyone involved.  If I reacted with anger, sarcasm, humiliation, shaming or a punitive attitude of trying to make him "pay" for his age-appropriate misjudgment by insisting it be turned in my favor, our connection and relationship would have  been harmed. Punitive, shaming parenting is the definition of attachment disruption. Connected, empathic, compassionate and respectful parenting is the definition of secure attachment.

Remember, adolescence is a stage of childhood, and the risk-taking, spontaneous, sometimes "creative" judgment of our adolescents is developmentally appropriate. Being a parent is a sacred agreement with our children to love, treasure, cherish and respect them, at all ages and stages of development. The most critical aspect of our sacred agreement with our children is to meet their needs-- and also to honor their wants. Making things happen for our children, saying "yes" when it is safe, healthy and positive to do so (especially when they make mistakes) and enjoying the years of taxiing and facilitating social activities is part of Attachment Parenting and unschooling.

Note to Self: In light of the aforementioned saga and other such adventures, double check plans with the other parents before embarking on long drives when son says, "It's all set, Mom!"


[Photos of Laurie and her son by Brenden Sanborn; photos of Laurie's son by Laurie]