A Guest Post by Kristen Brakeman
Since I became a parent almost sixteen years ago, I’ve worked hard to avoid becoming the un-hip suburban mom stereotype: I’ve stayed in touch with popular culture, resisted the lure of sweatpants and mom jeans, and made my best effort to refrain from being generally “embarrassing.” But I realized recently, that despite my efforts, I have become a decidedly Un-cool Mom. And you know what? I’m okay with it.
It seems that with almost every step, I am in the minority opinion on what is appropriate for kids. Like when my twelve-year-old daughter was invited to a coed evening birthday party. It seemed like an okay idea on paper – pizza and swimming with parental supervision – but when I arrived for pick-up after, I found that this was a far cry from the children’s party I had imagined.
The pulse of the DJ’s music pounded from a block away. As I approached the front yard, kids spilled out from everywhere. Then, a trip through the wide-open front door revealed a darkened living room filled with the birthday boy, his friends, and a gaggle of twelve-year-girls in skimpy bathing suit tops and teeny tiny short-shorts. What’s worse, my daughter was one of these girls.I didn’t know my jaw could fall as far as it did and yet still remain attached to my body. I wanted to shout, “What the hell is going on here? Why are the lights off and why are kids roaming all around the property unsupervised half-naked?”
I was shocked that a nightclub like atmosphere had been set up for a group of twelve-year-olds, certainly fanning the flames of their tweenage hormones. It seemed so unnecessary. Surely these kids will become attracted to one other when they’re ready. We parents don’t need to encourage them. But I guess there is some sort of mass parental hysteria going on right now, because invitations to these junior high rave-like parties keep coming in. I’d love to forbid my daughter from attending any of them, but fearing a “Footloose” type backlash of rebellion, I’ve opted to limit her to those hosted only by really good friends.
I can only surmise that parents host these parties because they want to be thought of as the “Cool Parents.” If that’s the case, then it’s a title I won’t be courting. In fact, I’d rather have the Bummer Mom crown. “No, you’re not going to a football game without a parent. No I’m not driving you to a party at the expense of my own plans, and no, I won’t stop reprimanding your friends when they’re back-talky and rude.”
Yes, I’m that un-cool. But I feel so alone on my Un-cool Mom island. Just the other day I heard a mom talk about witnessing a teenage boy smoking at the local grocery store. Yet she didn’t want to contact the boys’ parents for fear of either spreading gossip or making things awkward for her own children later.
Her views are not uncommon. In fact, in a blog post in the NY Times a writer explained that she would never rat out her son’s friends, for fear that if she did, her son would stop confiding in her and it would ruin their communication bond. This doesn’t make sense to me. Of course I understand the desire to have your children feel comfortable talking to you, but isn’t it more important that your kids see you model desirable behavior? If I learn that a child is in trouble (and by trouble I mean engaging in dangerous behaviors like drinking or smoking) I want my kids need to see me do the right thing by intervening.
One time, many years ago, I was at a local park with my eldest daughter and we saw a toddler put a cigarette butt in her mouth. I immediately stopped the child and let her mom know what had happened. I think most of my mom friends would do the same. But now that their children are teens, these same parents are afraid to intervene, apparently more worried about how it will affect their own family dynamic than helping a child in need. Well, I have news for these parents: it’s normal to lose that communication bond with your child.
It’s normal for kids to turn to their friends as primary confidants. Kids need to extract their parents from the details of their lives so they can become the independent adults we want them to be. And really, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s quite temporary. Once they get married and have kids of their own, they’ll be back, undoubtedly begging for babysitting or asking for insight about how to get their own kid to stop crying. There will be plenty of bonding again then.
So, to the Cool Moms and Dads of the world I ask: please rat out my fifteen-year-old if you see her smoking at the supermarket, reprimand my eight-year-old if she gives you any disrespectful lip, and go ahead and misplace my twelve-year-old daughter’s invitation to your darkened den of hyperactive hormones also known as your son’s birthday party. My kids might not be cool with it, but I will.
Kristen Brakeman has had essays appear in LA Parent, Working Mother, The Sun, and Bridal Guide magazines, as well as The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle and the CS Monitor. She works free-lance on comedy and awards shows and is the mother of three daughters. Find Kristen on her site and on Twitter.