5 Things Story- Bad Grades, Bad Friends...HELP!

Are you a fan of the 5 Things Stories on our website? If you're new to our site, click on this link to find a variety of stories written by moms of all different stages of parenting. 

We ask moms of unique experiences and different stages of mom-ming, "What are 5 Things you're glad you did in raising your daughter?"

Everyone tends to list regrets first, but when forced to think hard, most can come up with some basic things that were very beneficial, looking back. My hope is that these stories can be of encouragement to us who are still in the trenches.

As I was thinking through who to have write a 5 Things story for me, this friend came to mind. Though I haven't seen her much in recent years, when she lived near she always impressed me with her parenting style. She tells in this story that she was a single mom until her daughter was 12.  

I didn't know much of this story until reading this post. It is so good. I'll let it speak for itself.

"Mom, I need to talk to you about something." Here it comes, I thought to myself. I could tell by her face that whatever  she was getting ready to say wasn't something she thought I would approve of.  She was 11 years old going on 16 and had been hinting around about how fun and exciting it would be to kiss a boy.  She was a social girl who liked to be on the go and I loved that quality in her.  This also meant that she developed a precocious nature early on. 

"Okay mom," she says, "Please listen all the way through and let me finish before you give me an answer." 

I could already tell the answer was going to be no,  but I agreed to her terms and she continued. 

"I've been thinking about this for a long time, and you said I wasn't  allowed to kiss boys, but I feel like I'm ready, and I need to. If you would just let me do it then I wouldn't have to wonder what it's like anymore and that would get it out of my system.  Before you say no, please think about it".

"Let me get this straight,"  I said. "Your opinion is that if you get kissed, that will be all you need, and from then on out, until a few more years go by, you won't ask me again?"

 "Yes!" she piped in enthusiastically.  "I promise I will not ask about it again until I'm older." 

She was so sweet and I wanted to kiss her for her innocence and transparency.  Early on, we established a system of honesty, that she adhered to.  The agreement between us was such that if she was honest with me even when she made mistakes and was scared to admit it, then we would talk it through and I would help her find a solution. However, if she did lie or withhold the truth from me, there were consequences that would be applied from me, as well as the natural consequences of her mistake itself. So basically, she would be making it way harder for herself if she lied to me.   

While it had worked in past situations, this time I was in a catch 22.  If I told her no without explanation, she would resent me and most likely do it anyway. On the other hand, there was no way that I was going to give her permission. After some thought I told her, "Well, let me ask you a question. When you desire something like food for instance, do you want just a small taste of it, or enough to satisfy you?"

She pondered for a moment and said, "I would want more." 

I gently explained to her how in the history of humanity we have proven time and time again that we always want more of a good thing.  In this case that "good thing" would be more intimacy and physical contact. After all, it was natural to feel that way because that is how we are made. 

Sometimes, the experiences we haven't had yet can become the only thing  we are able to focus on. Kind of like a dog with a bone.

"I think you should allow yourself to dream about it for a little while longer. Trust me when I tell you that the mystery and desire for something is the first and often most pleasant part of things. After that, it becomes normal, like the chocolate cake you eat for dessert. It's good, but not near as delicious as it would be if I told you that you couldn't have it, while it was sitting in front of you. You would want it more than ever. However, if you put that piece of cake out of your mind and focus on something else, it will lose its power.  You are powerful and in charge of your choices, and before you kiss a boy, you need to learn more about yourself. Your journey will bring you to a boy's lips someday but until then, enjoy your cake."

That satisfied her for a time, but I knew this wasn't over and boy, was I right.  My sweet, precious, honest,  little angel turned into someone else when she hit 12.  Her body was changing and her hormones were bouncing around inside her like a jackhammer out of control. Concurrently, I met and married a man whom she liked as well.  Although he was very good to her and loved her, she was angry and feeling as if I had deserted her.  I had never been married before and up until that point had put all of my energy and focus into being a good mom for my daughter.  At the same time that I got married, I uprooted her life and moved to a small town where my husband was offered a job.  So there she was- 12 years old, feeling deserted, ripped away from her friends and home to start a new life that she didn't ask for. And don't forget the HORMONES!

She began to sneak out and lie to me.  I overreacted and made things worse, even though at the time I thought I was handling the situation correctly.  Nothing I tried worked.  She was dead set on doing what she wanted, regardless of the consequences and division it was causing in the house. The more she rebelled the more upset I became and the more emotionally I reacted to the situation.  I was at a loss.  My husband and I were going to her school several times a month to talk to teachers and to try and get some feedback on what we could do.  Her grades were slipping from A's to C's,  D's, and F's, but mostly D's and F's.  

I was scared and was watching her throw away potential opportunities for her future.  She didn't care. All the talking, screaming, grounding, taking away, and everything else we tried, was all a vain attempt that pushed us farther into a chasm of despair.  This was my beautiful daughter.  When did she turn into this mean girl? I didn't know this girl.
Her life was all about her social life and trying to be popular.  She was consumed with boys and fun.   I wished that I had instilled better values in her and I was feeling like a failure.  I prayed, cried often and worried about her all of the time.

Then it hit me!  If I didn't feel like I knew her anymore,  then that was the first thing that needed to change.  

Instead of losing my cool with her, I dropped the attitude and began empathizing with her. Instead of yelling at her, I decided to embrace her, accept her choices and help her through it calmly, just as I had done whenever she came to me with her mistakes. I had high hopes for her and I wanted her to hope for herself once again.  I began to listen and tried not to preach when she told me things that scared the "you know what" out of me. I would panic inside and still overreact at times. 

So I practiced taking  myself out of the equation.  When she broke rules I tried not to overreact, which changed the whole dynamic.

 At first, it was hard for me to grasp the idea of accepting her while not approving of her behavior. Then I began to hear statements like "I guess I messed that up", or "I will do that differently next time."  She began to see the importance of her choices! 

Instead of using the word "grounded", we told her it was just a moment to take a breath and think about things, and that it would be good to spend more time together and stay closer to home.  She knew that "technically" meant she was grounded, but the small changes in our attitude put all the ownership on her. It was no longer about her mean mother trying to control her, it was all about her.  

When she wanted to go out with her friends,  I monitored her plans by checking them and even confirming with other parents about the plans.  I did most of that without her knowing so she wouldn't feel controlled and mortified. Even then,  she would find new ways to lie.  It was always with the same bunch of friends that she got into trouble.  I didn't want to demand that she couldn't hang out with those people, because I knew she would miss the point, get angry with me, then use that as an excuse to justify her selfish behavior.  

I also didn't want to engage in the task of constant monitoring either, so I told her she could be friends with them if she wanted to, but she could not go to their houses ever again and unfortunately, they were not welcome in our house either. It felt like we were crushing her and it felt like torture for me to have to do it.  I didn't sleep well that night because I knew she felt scared to have to deal with it.  

When she saw her friends at school, she would try to catch up with them, but they began to resent her because they felt rejected.  She was watching old friends fade out and didn't have any replacements.  Within a couple of weeks, her friends grew tired of not being able to see her. It eventually became too much effort for them and they dumped her. 

By this time she was about 14 and her grades were still declining.  It was the end of the school year and she was complaining that it was taking too long for summer to arrive.  She had only a few friends that she could hang out with and felt lonely.  When she would complain, I would listen with empathy and instead of reminding her why she couldn't hang out with those particular people, I encouraged her to get out there and meet new friends.  

In short, I changed my approach but the rules didn't change. Instead of getting on to her, I rewarded her with compliments about how brave she was to go through it and come out on top.  She liked the compliments and the support and began to focus on what she was looking for in a friend.  

At this same time, her grades were a big problem and I was completely lost on how to help her.  She was getting ready to enter high school and I felt if things didn't change soon, she would ultimately bury herself in bad grades and give up altogether.  After many failed attempts and teacher student discussions, she still refused to study and didn't care about school.  The only thing left for me to do was talk to the principal and check out all her text books that she received a C or below on, and bring them home.  

I explained to her that since she decided to play while everyone else was working, she had to work while everyone else was playing.  After all, how was she going to move forward a year if she didn't know what happened the year before?  Since learning is something that is done in steps, she had to learn this step this summer or be held back.  The school wasn't going to hold her back  I was.  

She had managed to skimp by with D's but that was ridiculous and unacceptable in my opinion and she had to learn what she'd missed. That summer, every morning at 8:00am, she sat at the table and read a chapter then completed the questions and tests at the end of each chapter, then left it for me to check.  She could not go anywhere, watch tv, or do anything until her chapters were done.  She had to complete Math, History, Geography, and Science.  It was a difficult time for her but she knew she didn't have any another alternative.

When she complained, I reminded her that it was her choice to do it this way. She caught on very quickly to the idea that if she was going to have to do the work regardless, she might as well do it during the school year so she could enjoy her summer with her friends.

One day she asked me, "Mom, when are you going to trust me again? I'm not perfect but I'm trying." 

I thought about that piece of chocolate cake and how we as humans want what we can't have. Sometimes we can become so focused on that one thing we want, that we forget to enjoy what we do have. "If I have ever given you the impression that I expect perfection from you then I am sorry for that. All I expect you to do is your best and stop putting yourself in positions that are going to restrict your life.  This big world is your oyster. It starts here in this town, in this school, with these people. Get busy making it exciting.  All you have to do to replace trust and freedom is to be willing to say  no to three things.

"Huh?" she said, "What three things?"  

I said, "Enjoy everything this town has to offer except say no to drugs, alcohol, and sex. Just say no to those three things. There are so many things you have to choose from.  If you are dead set on putting your energy into any of those three things you are wasting your time and telling me that you need more time at home to evaluate your priorities. Additionally, if I can't trust you, then I have to spend my time worrying about you and I'm not willing to put myself in that position, so your freedoms will be limited to my convenience. Say yes to everything you want to do, within reason of course,  but no to those three things. Or, you can continue living with all these restrictions. If you think about it, I think you will find its a great offer." 

The light went on. Then  I decided it was time to get her very busy so her choices wouldn't be as hard.  She was very surprised when she was informed that each semester she needed to be involved with two after-school activities, sponsored by the school.  She could choose whatever she wanted to do but she must sign up for two at a time.  She signed up for soccer and drama club, where she began to meet other kids who had goals of college and scholarships.  Then after those were over, she went to sign up for two more, but couldn't make her mind up, so she did three.  

She became a driven leader and had a slew of people to hang out with who were all making excellent grades.  As the first year of high school progressed, her grades went from bad to good.  She began to feel that she was the driver of her own life and all her choices were hers to own

 She was now clicking along and because she was actively involved with school, she began developing relationships with her teachers and therefore didn't want to let them down by doing poor work.  She excelled in speech and received awards and honors for her work.  She began to excel in every area. By the time her senior year was over, she graduated on the Dean's list and received scholarships from local groups, as well as a full scholarship to a school in NYC.  She was also the senior class president and prom queen. 

Looking back, I'm so very glad those years are behind us.  It was hard for all of us and I can surely see how certain mistakes I made helped  lead her to the unhealthy choices she was making.
She now lives in NYC and all those memories are put away in time like an old box in the attic.  It's nice to thumb through old memories. It's as if they were old photographs being laid out to reminisce on. 

It is very ironic, though, that after all the preaching that I did to her, I would have learned a thing or two myself; but to be honest, I'm the one still trying to figure out how to say no to chocolate cake."

What a good story!!

This post has so much practical wisdom and advice in it. I chose 5 things to focus on that are great things to apply if you're having problems with your tween or teen. 

1.  System of honesty- I like the agreement. Tell me and I'll help you. Don't tell me and you'll have natural consequences PLUS mine.

2.  Step IN instead of OUT-  "If I didn't feel like I knew her anymore,  then that was the first thing that needed to change." It's so tempting, and much easier, to step away when things are hard. But this is true- sometimes at the hardest times, that's when the biggest effort should be made.

3. Take yourself out of the equation- "When she broke rules I tried not to overreact, which changed the whole dynamic." Listening and empathizing more feels risky, but may work. I remember when someone told me to try to think of myself as a judge- take the emotion out and simply dole out consequences. That helps when we want to overreact. Of course, we need to be more relational than a judge would be (lol). Instead of blowing up, we can remove ourselves a bit from the emotional state we may find ourselves in...calm down, breathe, listen, find empathy, and then give out any consequences that may need to happen. Not as a mean mad parent, but as a deliverer of the consequences of the choices that they themselves made.

4. Focus on the positive when you can- "Instead of getting on to her I rewarded her with compliments about how brave she was to go through it and come out on top."

5. Give a simple goal- Say no to these 3 things: say no to drugs, alcohol and sex. Stop putting yourself in positions that are going to restrict your life. This last sentence really shows that it's the choices they are making that are 1) their choice and 2) going to limit their lives. It gives them the power to realize different choices will give more freedom. 

Another point, we as parents often don't like to do the hard things that will make change in our kids. It hurts to cause pain or watch them suffer, but I think this is a great example of times when a little pain brought great reward and change. Parenting is NOT for the weak of heart! 

Be encouraged. Be strong. Do what you gotta do for that long term benefit of change. 

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