My Mama Not Home Yet: Would You Take Parental Leave For Your Teen?
I returned back to work in early December 2014 after the birth of my daughter. For months I was bombarded with stories from older colleagues about their days of being stay-at-home moms who took midday walks to the park with their newborns and their cherished moments of making macaroni art with their toddlers those precious days prior to them starting Pre-K. But I knew from the beginning even as a new mom that I craved balance. I missed the hustle and bustle of my morning commute and coffee run. I missed happy hour and conversation with other adults. I loved my newborn but also knew that at some point she’d want a break from me too. And also let’s not get it twisted: I had bills to pay. I didn’t get paid parental leave and my savings were looking all the way crazy after taking two and half months off. The one piece of advice that eased my mommy guilt came from my mother. A woman who had also worked for most of my childhood shared, “Right now she just wants someone to feed her, change her and rock her to sleep. It’s pretty simple stuff right now, the hard part comes years later.”
When I think about it, the truth is I could’ve used a stay-at-home mom the moment I hit fourteen. Don’t get me wrong, my parents were incredible people who worked hard to make sure my sister and I had a decent upbringing and the best shot at a decent future. They paid Catholic school tuitions that grew more expensive with each year as I attended from Pre-K to middle school and my sister eventually ended up attending a Catholic high school too. My mom bought the latest basketball sneakers to drop when we did well in school and juggled butt whoopins, hugs and the occasional heart-to-heart conversation.
But even with that I can’t help but notice when it came to me, my parents sort of fell back when I hit my teenage years. After proving that I could get good grades, stay out of trouble and make respectful friends that were a positive influence I was allowed to ditch the plaid jumper Catholic school uniform, throw on some Guess Jeans and attend public school where I lost my ENTIRE mind. From the first day Christopher Stephens (a junior who resembled actor Brian White) grabbed my wrist in the hallway outside of Accounting II You couldn’t tell me NOTHING. I was feeling myself. I threw my books to the bottom of my locker, and focused on the boys. I hosted house parties during the last days of school before summer where my classmates would sign in at school for attendance before walking two blocks to my house to get into Lord knows what. I smoked Black & Milds in the playground with my corner boy boyfriend. I spent summers driving around the streets of North Philly into the wee hours of the morning with my Haitian boyfriend. I even hesitated to get on the pill and had my share of pregnancy scares. And most nights my parents didn’t seem to mind. I did the absolute most as a teenager short of becoming a teenage mother or going to jail. I had earned my good girl label, but the reality of who I really was and what I did as a teen makes me wonder if I should revisit the idea of being a stay-at-home mom when my daughter decides to lose her own damn mind during adolescence.
A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family shows that when it comes to parenting teens, the quantity of time spent with them makes a big difference. In her article, “The Case For Taking Parental Leave When Your Kids Are Teenagers,” author Jill Senior uses info she found from the study to back up a theory she’s had for a while: Your sixteen-year-old probably needs more parental supervision than your six-year-old does. The study looked at children ages 3 to 11 and then kids 12 to 18 and came to some interesting conclusions:
“…what it found, surprisingly, is that there was zero correlation between how much time mothers spent with their kids — whether it was immersive or merely “accessible” — and emotional health or academic performance or even (in most cases) behaviors. The same was true for dads. There was just one key exception involving one key variable at one key time in a child’s life: adolescence.”
The study found that the more time teens spent with parents, the less time they had to engage in risky behavior:
“The researchers found that the more engaged time mothers spent with their teenagers, the less likely those teenagers were to engage in delinquent acts — defined as anything from lying about something important to getting arrested. The effect was statistically small, but definitely there.”
Don’t get me wrong, I know as soon as my daughter hits thirteen, the last person she’ll probably want to hang out with is me, but I can’t help wonder if I would’ve been a little less boy crazy or taken heartache a little easier if I knew I had spa days to look forward to with my mom or a bi-weekly lunch and shopping date when she got off a little earlier from work. My mom is old-school and definitely a subscriber to the distinct line between parent and friend. But I want my daughter to feel like she can come talk to me about how she’s insecure about her hair or hips and everything in between. I want to be home so that when she tries to run upstairs with the boy that grabbed her wrist in the hallway, I can shut it down, make him a sandwich and at least learn his last name. I want to be involved and not just take for granted that because I raised a good girl up until adolescence that it’s OK to ride the rest of her life out on autopilot.
Unfortunately, for most moms, their children’s teenage years fall right when women seem to be coasting through their careers after achieving a certain level of success, and most American employers don’t honor parental leave for older children besides Family Medical Leave in which the child has to be severely ill. Laurence Steinberg, a puberty expert and author of The Age Of Opportunity asks:
“I wonder what the work-family world would look like if employers either voluntarily or were mandated to allow working people a number of afternoons off per year to spend with their older children.”
He also adds that when it comes to adolescents, timing is everything:
“Most adolescents, Steinberg says, don’t misbehave in the backseats of cars on weekend evenings. They break the rules between 3 and 6 p.m. on school days, usually in their own homes or a friend’s, when no one else is around. Those are the peak hours for drug experimentation, smoking, sex.”
If those hours look familiar it’s because those are the latch key kid hours otherwise known as the gap between when kids get out of school and when they’re parents get home from work. And while my parents popped up every now and then occasionally to chase a boy down the driveway or my mom would call out from work unexpectedly to shut down my pre-summer fun, the truth is I would want to be home for my daughter not just to catch her in the act of acting up. But to be there when she needs me most and hopefully sometimes deter her from doing hood rat things with her friends like I once did. Steinberg stresses that as much as they may seem to push away, the truth is many adolescents want parents who are involved:
“Kids like being with their parents at this age.”
“A lot of surveys say they wish their parents would talk to them more.”
Would you consider being a stay-at-home parent for your teen?
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.