I realize it’s a habit that’s a bit outdated, but I enjoy reading the newspaper everyday. Once, in an effort to be “green,” I discontinued my subscription and tried to read the online edition, but it just wasn’t the same as holding a real paper while drinking a cup of hot coffee first thing in the morning. It’s also more fun to actually clip articles out of the paper that you want to forward to someone than to try to forward a link to an online edition. I always start by reading the front page news at breakfast, then peruse the t.v. schedule and advice columns over lunch. I love Dr. Oz’s tips for leading a healthy lifestyle, which, no matter the topic, usually end with the line, “…and this will probably help improve your sex life, too!” Another enjoyable column is “The People’s Pharmacy,” which includes helpful tips for using common materials found in everyone’s home to cure various ailments, like cornmeal for treatment of toe fungus. Last weekend an advice column penned by the Rev. Billy Graham, “My Answer,” caught my eye. I’m not sure who is actually writing this, as I’ve heard that the good reverend is 94, frail, and in poor health. Perhaps they’re re-runs. I digress. The question posed to Rev. Graham was from a mother of two daughters who wrote that her teenage girls would be “happy and carefree” on one day and then “sullen and moody and will hardly speak to us” on the next. Her simply phrased question was, “What’s going on?” Oh boy, what a great question, I thought, smiling as I recognized her frustration. Two of my three girls are in their twenties and the youngest has just one more year of teenager-dom, but I clearly remember a time when I nervously awaited their return from school. Just like Forrest when faced with a box of chocolates, I was never sure what I’d get. Would there be a silent, surly girl or a smiling, silly one? Would she want to chat about her day, or stomp to her room, slam the door and stay there until supper? It was always impossible to predict. So, I know about the letter-writer’s confusion. The only answer I could come up with was, “I don’t know. PMS?” How would Dr. Graham provide a definitive answer to this in just the few paragraphs allotted him by the San Antonio Express-News?
First, he reminded the reader that adolescence is a difficult time, and while teenagers long to be adults, they find adult responsibilities scary. In the meantime, he explained, they are trying to deal with peer pressure while feeling the need to be loved and accepted by all. Then he succinctly gave four bits of advice to the teenage girls’ mom: “Go out of your way to let them know you love them, no matter what’s going on in their lives. Learn to be a good listener and know when to give advice and when to keep silent. Learn from the experience of other parents. Most of all encourage your daughters to put their lives into Christ’s hands, and to seek his guidance for their futures.” Hmm. Great advice, I thought. I wish I’d had this column taped to my makeup mirror when my girls were growing up. I read the answer again, carefully, and, initially, congratulated myself. I always let the girls know I loved them no matter what. I often sought advice from other parents, and sometimes professionals, while raising our children. As Catholics, my husband and I recognized our role as our girls’ first teachers, and took our responsibility to raise them in the Catholic faith seriously, so I got that one. Then, slowly, I had to admit that I failed on a biggie; I simply could not recall a time when I ever listened and kept silent. EVER. Not when listening to my children, my husband, or my friends. I was always ready with advice. Then I realized I rarely even thought before I spoke. Actually, I have a hard time keeping quiet until anyone speaking to me finishes; I am always anxious to offer advice regarding how they should handle nearly every situation, usually my knee-jerk reaction, not one based upon thoughtful contemplation. Some find it endearing, most find it infuriating. (It’s a wonder I have any friends at all!) My mother used to say that I always wanted to “fix” every problem and that I’d work until I came up with a solution. She meant it as a compliment, but now I see that when it came to raising my girls, there were many times that I should have let the girls figure out the fix by themselves. I should have kept my big mouth shut.
If there is one thing I dislike, it’s regrets. However, reading Dr. Graham’s column made me regret that I had not simply listened to my daughters and acted like the grown-up, listening quietly, nodding patiently, appearing knowledgeable, calm and wise. Rather, when my girls entered the house feeling gloomy, I suddenly was, too. If they were angry and snapped at me, I angrily snapped right back. If they were happy, I was over the moon! They must have felt so confused; if Mom thinks it’s a big deal, it must be a BIG DEAL! Why couldn’t I have been the picture of serene stability? Instead, they’d recount some perceived injustice and rather than minimizing or ignoring it, I’d suggest three or four steps they should take to deal with it. “She said what? Well, then, tomorrow I’d go up to her and say….” Or, “No way! I can’t believe she did that to you. That is unacceptable. Tomorrow, as soon as you see her, you need to….” And, “The teacher misplaced your homework? I’m going to call her right now and give her a piece of my mind.” Oh gosh, girls, I’M SORRY! Yes, girls can be mean, teachers can be scattered, and sometimes life can give you lemons instead of lemonade. But, as the parent, I should have been the steady (soft) rock upon which you could lean, not the slightly agitated smart aleck offering knee-jerk solutions to relatively minor rough patches upon the sea of life.
Thankfully, all three of my daughters seem pretty happy at the moment. So, I guess I didn’t cause any permanent damage. And, after reading this column, I owe Dr. Graham a debt of gratitude. I’ve engaged in a good deal of self-reflection and introspection and will hopefully be a better person for it. Who knew that reading the newspaper could be so beneficial?