Book Review: Get Out of My Life, but first could you drive me & Cheryl to the mall?


This week I read a book which I love and which gives me more than a handful of challenging thoughts on parenting. Or, more specifically, parenting teenagers. Get out of my life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall? by Anthony Wolf is a parenting survival guide, jam-packed with stories and scenarios which sound authentic to anyone who has ever been or lived with teenagers.

"Once adolescence begins, teenage boys go to their room, close the door, turn on their stereo, and come out four years later."

What the book is not is a buttoned-up, 7-ways-to-happy-relationships-with-a-difficult-child checklist. If you like neat and tidy, this isn't the title for you.

The book explains...

"why teenagers do what they do; it gives you the ability to translate teenage behavior into its true, often less complicated meaning. Armed with this new way of seeing, parents will not need to be told what to do. They can make their own decisions, based on their general good sense and personal child-rearing beliefs."

Much of the advice has to do with the posture parents take with their kids and a parent's ability to have both a light touch...

"To get along with teenagers, parents need to accept that they themselves have flaws. Even better, adults should have a sense of humor about this state of affairs. Parents who do can become a model for their teenage children because teenagers also have trouble accepting their flaws."

and a thick skin!

"It is normal and healthy for teenagers to prefer to see adults as fools."

There are themes in this book which apply to all teenagers and all parents and which are both relevant and wise. Probably the biggest idea is summarized as a teenager's job is to separate from their parents and a parent's job is to let them go.

This is a simple idea, but it's made more complex because the separation process is full of mixed messages.

"While they demand freedom and fight to attain it, they still need to feel their parents' strength. Teenagers battle to dismantle their parents' authority, but they can be undone if they are too successful."

So how do parents actually handle this from a practical perspective?

Again, this book doesn't say exactly.  Instead,

“What is it to be the parent of a teenager? It is to do what you think best—when really you have no idea what is best. It is to ride out the storms and be back again the next day. It is to give love to a child who does not seem to want it, to a child who five minutes ago seemed to deserve a punch more than anything else.”

In other words, stay in the game, no matter how much your kid tries to shake you off.

Of course there are some concrete examples which may or may not match your parenting ideas.

Wolf recommends there should always be rules, but also that there can also be times of negotiating those rules. He  writes about the importance of boundaries, though he doesn't offer any recommendations for consequences when those boundaries are crossed. If you read between the lines, I think he would say your response "depends" on the child.

"...if this book achieves its goal, you may notice a strange transformation in those scenes that used to drag you down. With a new understanding of your teenager’s psychological development and state of mind, you may find that those scenes are never quite the same again. They look different, less desperate, more like the inevitable interaction between a normally developing teenager and a caring parent. You may also discover that, seeing differently, you act differently as well.”

If you're into a parenting book which makes you feel you aren't crazy, I think this is worth a read.