I knew what I was seeing before I knew what I was seeing. My brain worked hard to protect my mom heart. What is that? Is that a highlighter? I pulled the top off not to expose a highlighter tip, but rather a menthol pack. Oh. OH.
My fifteen-year-old culprit daughter was in the basement working on a cheer routine. My mind raced as I ticked through options of how best to address this. I sent the photo to her dad and his only response was “That’s not good.” Well, that wasn’t good either – how was I supposed to handle this? Do I tell her I found it while simply setting laundry on her bed? Do I wait to make her confess once she realizes it is gone? Can I just ignore this, go get in my bed, and pretend it didn’t happen?
As my overwhelm started to subside, my well-worn lawyering skills of problem-solving kicked in. I set the vape pen on my dresser and reflected about what I was most upset about at my core. I knew intellectually that this behavior should be expected from teenagers as they strive to assert themselves into adulthood. They want to test limits, show independence, and flex into risky behaviors for the sheer sake of seeing what they can get away with. I knew this was normal as flickering memories of me at that age came into focus of drinking, sneaking out, and more…
I resolved to speak with her as soon as she returned upstairs. And of course, she bounded upstairs a bit later with enthusiasm and happiness of having mastered her tryout routine for the following week. Again, I was tempted toward avoidance, but instead said “You can message your friends that you will talk to them on Monday.” This was Wednesday and she quizzically looked at me. I said, “Look behind you.” She turned toward my dresser and back toward me with saucer eyes.
She gave me her phone (and all of her other electronics) and that was all I could do for the moment. I relayed my disappointment and said we would talk more the next day. (It was bedtime for us both). I was self-aware enough to know that speaking from fatigue would not be my friend. When my eldest daughter arrived home from babysitting soon thereafter – she said – “Oh, I had one of those my sophomore year too.” WHAT?!?! Another layer – so my eldest daughter was just sneaky enough to get away with it and avoid punishment? Or do I punish her now 2 years after the fact? Sigh.
In the days ahead we had several conversations. I set my anger, hurt, and judgements aside in an effort to really learn from and hear my daughter. She shed tears over the weight of peer pressure (“EVERYONE does it, Mom”), she affirmed repeatedly at my insistence that she knew how harmful this was and that my only intention was to keep her safe and healthy. She viewed this behavior as one of the least egregious of what she saw from her peers.
What I came to understand, and what I hope to remember when the inevitable next time arrives, is that my reaction had everything to do with opening up toward her instead of my initial reaction which was to close down at her. Not only did she need to start building back the trust I place in her, but I needed to maintain the trust she has in me that I will listen, guide, teach, protect, and always love.