Saving the World One Teen at a Time - Column on Parenting Tweens and Teens

Holiday Musical Houses.

by Kristy Campbell


I love this time of year. It is especially joyful for those of us with blended families because there is an extra element of joy in arranging the logistics of who goes where when and for how long. But this year with a teenager who wants to call her own shots, I’m finding myself stuck between a menorah and a tree. Holiday Musical Houses is not my idea of a fun family party game.


My daughter is 17, off to college next year, and has had to endure the back-and-forth of households since she was 5 year old. This year, she has asked to spend her last Winter Break at home with her 4 siblings and me here in California. Her dad would like her to spend it with her 2 siblings and him there in New York. I’m wondering if I could sneak away to Hawaii on my own. Part of me feels as though my daughter has earned her say about how she spends her vacation time, but another part wonders if she is able to understand the importance of choosing family over herself at such a self-focused time of her life.


It’s important to note that she’s not a selfish child. She’s a normal teenager and teens are designed to be self-absorbed. It’s in their child development DNA. Much like a toddler who learns about his world in relationship to himself, teens are revisiting and perfecting this me vs. world relationship. This time around, though, the stakes are heightened because their future is looming and their need to figure out where their specific place is in the world is as consuming as a toddler’s “me want” tantrums. For parents of a teen, this phase is exceptionally challenging because of the daily need to interject the sense of “other” into their teen’s world. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said something to the effect of “you’re not the only one in this family/country/world/Milky Way galaxy”…


Holidays have always seemed to me to be the perfect time to reinforce this message of connectedness, as opportunities for family meals, neighborhood get-togethers, and charity work abound. I’ve spent the past 12 years trying to build a sense of cohesiveness for my daughter within her rebuilt family. What hit me when she asked if she could just stay home this year is that the holidays are the worst time to show a child from a divorce about family bonding, especially as you are driving her to the airport. Telling her that she’d be missed at the annual holiday open house or that I’d be calling to say hi on New Year’s Eve doesn't teach her anything other than that her parents’ lives went on and she isn’t sure where she belongs.



I understand your dilemma; my kids shuffle back between the house they live in with their dad and the one they and I live in. At least it's in the same town.

The first year I was in college, a friend and I decided we'd go to Boston (we were at the Univ. of Vermont) for an adventure instead of going to our respective homes for Thanksgiving.

We made a few assumptions/monetary decisions that turned out to be bad ones and, to make a long story short, ended up having T-day back at our cold, empty dorm (actually, a converted horse stable) with a few granola bars between us. At the end of that year, I went cross-country with friends, dropped out, followed my boyfriend out West and married him. I was 20.

My parents weren't happy, but when I came back to them a few years later, solo and humbled, they never said, "told you so." They helped me pick up where I was; I will never forget that.

It's OK for kids to make mistakes. Our generation has tried to shelter our kids so much that it's a wonder they all haven't rebelled.

Let her make "important decisions for herself," even if they're not what you'd chose. And then, be there for her when she comes home, humbled or not. She'll never forget that.