Why I Believe In Tough Love For My Teens



I used to be a real Mom, but now that my daughters are almost grown teenagers, life at Pittman Palace is anything but picture perfect. And that’s just the way I like it.

Hungry? And don’t like what I made for dinner? Learn how to cook. It’s an invaluable skill that will serve you for the rest of your eating life.

Need a ride to your friend’s house on a perfect sunny day? You are more than capable of walking.

You want what? Wouldn’t we all! That’s what jobs are for.

When my kids then call me the Meanest Mom in the World, I take it as a compliment. It means I’m doing my job. The goal is to raise them to be able to find their own ways out of a paper bag. Here’s my adage: If you give a teenager a fish, she will eat for a day. If you teach a teenager to fish, she eats for a lifetime. Enlighten her further and she owns a chain of seafood restaurants!

Admittedly, it’s hard not to cater to them, especially with the college-is-just-around-the-corner clock ticking away in my heart. I’d actually love nothing more than to do their laundry, color coordinate it, fold it neatly and place it in lavender scented drawers; drop everything in order to chauffeur them all over town; fill their wallets with as much money as they wanted to spend on new clothes and the latest gadgets; and sit them down to home cooked meals every night by candlelight and not ask them to help clean up. And that’s just for starters.

I sometimes surrender to the Tough Love, DIY Mom by offering up my services, but it usually only frightens them when I’m nice.

“Are you okay Mom?” Susannah will say, backing slowly away from me as I hand them a glass of milk and their favorite chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven when they come in the door from school. “What’s wrong? Why are you being so nice to us?”

“What are you talking about?” I’ll ask, wiping my hands on the yellow tea cup adorned apron I reserve for these special moments.

She’ll then look at her sister pleading for back up support.

“Mom’s just in one of her Mom moods today, Susannah,” her sister will say. “Don’t worry. You can have a cookie. She’ll snap out of it soon.”

But the joke was on Nell when I didn’t. In fact, Mrs. Nice Mom camped out in our house for an entire week. It started with the batch of cookies and continued with doing their laundry and finished when I made a secret pact with Nell to actually write her English paper comparing “Glengarry Glen Ross” to “Death of a Salesman.” There’s a first time for everything and this was it.

What’s one paper I reasoned, especially when I happen to know several parents who actually do their high schooler’s homework for them on a regular basis. Yup! One mom I know will actually complain to me about how hard it is to complete the assignments on time with everything else on her plate.

“I was up until one o’clock in the morning writing her English paper,” she’ll say to me. “And then I had to study for the trig test so I could go over it with her before the midterm!”

Another family– and I know this for a fact– went as far as to hire an $150 an hour SAT tutor for their daughter–STARTING IN KINDERGARTEN! She’s now a senior in high school and has a near perfect score whereas my daughter took the test cold. She did well, but I was secretly seething and then outwardly complaining to her guidance counselor about the unfairness of it all.

I call it Revenge of the Anti-Mom! If they’re going to un-level the playing field, then so would I!  When Nell said she was all for it, we bonded like thieves.

“How’s it going Mom?” she’d ask, sitting down with me at the kitchen table, sweetly asking if I’d like a cup of tea.

“Piece of cake!” I said, giving her a high five. “I can whip this off in no time. Relax. I’ve got your back, babe.”

A few days and two plays later, I emailed her the completed essay.

That’s when she came downstairs.

“Mom, we gotta talk,” she said.

“Why? What?” I asked.

“I would never turn that in,” she said. “I can’t do it.”

Beaming with pride at my most precious, principled and perfect daughter, I handed her a piece of chocolate I pretended was just for her whereas I really found it under the driver’s seat after Trick or Treating with a carload of kids.

“I’m so proud of you honey,” I said, watching her peel at the wrapper.

“Mom, I hate to tell you this, but I would’ve been tempted to use it if it were any good. You really need some help if you’re going to get through high school.”


This post originally appeared on LauraFahrenthold.com

Laura Fahrenthold is a NYC crime reporter/national magazine editor about to publish her first book, distributed by Penguin Random House on surviving the death of her journalist husband, and of ultimately not knowing what to do with his ashes. Her memoir takes readers through a portrait of grief, including 31,152 miles of adventure-filled ashes-spreading RV trips across the United States and Canada with her kids and a stray dog in tow where the pink steering wheel becomes her spiritual GPS.




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