Kelly Corrigan And The Challenges Of Parenting Teens
Kelly Corrigan, author of the recently published New York Times bestseller Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say, is known for her honest and humorous storytelling. She is also the mom of two teenagers, Claire, 14, and Georgia, 16. We talked with Kelly about what she’s learned—and is still learning—about raising teens.
Q: Has having teenagers changed how you are willing to speak and write about yourself and your kids?
Corrigan: It doesn’t change what I’m willing to share about myself, but I am limited in what family stories I can tell. I pick stories that we as a family have already processed together that I know are fair game. There is so much pain in adolescence, and I can’t use those stories to make a point. People feel pain from middle school and high school into their adulthood. There is a tenderness that I am not going to touch.
Q: What do you find is the biggest challenge transitioning to parenting teenagers?
Corrigan: One thing I am sort of surprised about is I find myself kind of tongue-tied sometimes when I try to initiate a deeper conversation. I default to these really dumb topics like asking if they have a lot of homework. I don’t know why I am asking. Nor do they care to tell me. But it’s like this dumb default.
What I really want to talk about is how it feels to be them these days. What made them happy today?
Q: Would they engage in that kind of conversation?
Corrigan: It’s kind of awkward sometimes. Teenagers are just like anyone else. They aren’t in the mood to talk about what makes them happy. When I think back on my teenage years, I did not care what my mom thought about anything.
I’m just a tiny small voice over here. That’s exactly how I was at their age, and that’s fine. It’s just funny, because I thought I would be really good at this part. This was when I was going to kick in as a really valued advisor. And nothing could be further from the truth.
Q: When your kids aren’t open to these conversations, what is the alternative?
Corrigan: I am so into the potted plant theory, which is if there has been a potted plant in your room your whole life and then someone were to take that out, you would notice it was gone. Just be a potted plant for your kid. Let them look over and see that you are there, and if they should need you, you are right where you are supposed to be. You are available. There is a lot of comfort in having another person in the room.
Q: Now that you have two teens, if you could have prepared for it, what do you wish you would have known?
Corrigan: We were projecting way too far into the future. We didn’t realize how much they were going to change every six months. So they would have a habit that would worry us and then we would go all the way to the end of their life and it was like she is always going to struggle with that.
Then nine months later, the habit disappeared. I wish I hadn’t been so fatalistic in my thinking in terms of their character traits. They are really still in development, but they don’t look like they are in development anymore. They have stopped growing; their bodies settle into what their bodies are. So they look like finished adults, but they aren’t even close.
Q: We never stop growing, so why do we think our kids would?
Corrigan: I can get into this really judgy place. But I need to realize that we have so much in common. For instance, in our school you have to play an instrument in sixth grade. Georgia chose to play the saxophone. We had to rent the instrument for a year. But if they lose it we have to pay for it. We were irked that she picked the saxophone because it is enormous and expensive and if she loses it, it’s a disaster.
Sure enough, she lost track of it for a day. We were beside ourselves and so full of judgment and disdain. A month later my husband left his brand-new Bose headphones in the overhead compartment of an airplane. A month after that I lost my brand-new iPhone. Sometimes we just talk to them like we have never in our lives done the things they are doing right now.