Two of my three children are currently living securely in the teen years.
Seated awkwardly between what I like to call the cuddly kid years and the almost adulting years they enter when they graduate from high school, head off to college, and begin to taste the cold, hard reality that going to a fast food joint and only being able to afford something from the dollar menu until “payday” (aka, the day mom dumps more money into your account) can teach, this is the period in life that every parent fears will finally turn their hair gray and their brains to mush.
And, that was the longest sentence ever…
So far, I can’t say I have any gray dotting my hairline—I attribute this more to the youthful appearance my genetics afford me and less to my teen raising lifestyle—my brain, on the other hand, is generally pretty mushy. Again, a fact that is not entirely created by my current position as someone parenting teens, but could be to do with a never-dwindling, overwhelmingly verbose to-do list.
When it comes to parenting teens and helping them balance school, sports, friends, work, and family commitments, providing support and guidance, monitoring their behavior, online and off, and dealing with personalities, moods, and hormones, in my case, a lot of testosterone, saying that I am exhausted by it all would be an understatement.
And, it’s so much more than that.
It is the entire idea of this stage of motherhood that’s got me in my feelings today ans pretty much all of them.
Rewind life to about 17 years to when I was sitting at home staring into the screaming baby face of the man child who is now my high school junior, I remember that I thought those days to be some of life’s most trying. Having a newborn was, on one hand, the most empowering and positive experience of my life, and, on the other, the hardest, most bone-tiring, confusing, scary, and unpredictable experience I’d had to date.
Sprinkle on a little undiagnosed, untreated postpartum depression, and you have the hot mess, mom-Me I was circa 2001.
When I look back at that time from where I sit now, I have one thing to say to young mom-Me…
You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Crying yourself to sleep because you haven’t showered in four days or slept well in twice as many, beats crying yourself to sleep because your heart is basically being ripped from your because your child told you he sat in the library during lunch to avoid sitting in the cafeteria alone.
I will take stinky pits and sleepless nights over that emotional torture any day of the week.
That is in no way meant to take anything away from the hard work and toil put in daily by moms in the infant/toddler baby trenches. Because, real talk, that was rough, I get your life, and I feel for you, boo.
What I want you all to understand, however, is that when people say things to you like, “It gets better!” and, “This is so hard now, but you’ll be wishing they were babies again one day,” and other meant-to-be-encouraging words of “wisdom”, all of that…
Lies, lies, and more lies.
Okay, lies may be a strong word because the part about wishing they were babies again is actually true. But, the rest of it, especially the part about it getting easier, nope.
It never gets easier.
It gets different.
It gets more intense.
It gets more exciting.
It even gets more fulfilling.
But, parenting, it never gets easier.
Diaper changing is traded for pulling man-sweat soaked dirty compression shorts out of the bag they’ve been zipped into for three days. Lack of sleep will one day be attributed to waiting by the door until midnight to make sure they make it home. Early mornings won’t be spent chasing your toddler around the living room, but will instead be used to organize the car and pack the bags for the three day, out of town soccer tournament you have to go to. That will cost you $1000 and eat up your entire holiday weekend.
Different things to worry about, different things to keep you up at night, different things to make your hair go gray and your brain turn to mush.
Like letting go.
It’s not like you didn’t know it was coming -your kid has been running from you since he could walk, right?
But now, instead of yelling, “MOMMY SAID STOP!” you’ll be saying, “Make good choices. I will miss you. See you soon. I’m tracking your phone,” as you let him, encourage him even, to go off on his own and do his own things away from you.
If you want them to grow up to be functioning, contributing members of society, who are empowered to make smart choices even when they’re hard, have meaningful relationships, self-confidence, and the ability to live a financially stable and emotionally satisfying life—minus dependency on your kitchen and your basement—this has to happen.
And, tbh, I’m not a fan.
It is scary and hard.
Fortunately, it’s also, at times, exciting and fun and surprising.
20 Unexpected Things You’ll Be Happy to Hear About Parenting Teens
They don’t all do teenager-y things.
The kind you see in movies.
They aren’t you.
And that’s okay.
Sometimes I think people forget that.
I often hear those parenting things say, “Oh, well I remember how I was as a teenager…” or, “I put my parents through hell so, I know what’s up.”
Personally, I was a delightful teenager.
I can count on one hand the number of things I did that my parents would’ve been upset about if they’d known.
My brother was nothing like me.
And, that’s not to say he was a monster, he was just… not like me.
It’s about expectations, and having realistic ones that encourage growth.
In high school, I had this AP Government teacher who was always talking about the power of high expectations. He called us his eagles because he expected us to soar.
And it made me want to. It made me try. It made me believe that he believed in my ability to do great things and, sometimes, having someone believe in your greatness is all it takes to make you be great.
I believe my teenagers have the ability to be great.
And, that doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes or do teenager-y things from time to time. It just means that when they go out to a party I’m not expecting them to come home filthy drunk or accepting it if they do.
They can be trusted.
If you teach them the importance of trustworthiness.
My boys know that they have longer leashes when they’re living in truth. Catch them in a lie and our together time will get pretty extensive.
You want things for them you never imagined you’d want.
Like girls that like them.
Because why wouldn’t all the girls everywhere like them? They’re the best most handsome, most likeable, most amazing boys on the planet.
They still need you.
For guidance, information, advice.
As much at 17 as they did at 7.
They just need you in different ways.
But they can do a ton of things on their own.
They’re super expensive.
Adult clothes, adult shoes, adult meals. Car insurance, do NOT even get me started on car insurance.
You can talk to them.
Because unlike the toddler versions of themselves, they can be reasoned with.
And they kinda want you to.
Even when it comes to the hard stuff. Especially when it comes to the hard stuff.
You can learn so much about them by hanging out with them and their friends.
Have them over for dinner, take them out for ice cream, sit with them at the basketball game, if they’ll let you.
Seeing your teenager engaging with kids their own age, who they don’t live with, shows you a different side to your kid.
You should get to know this side too.
You may find that you have more in common than you thought you would.
They might even think you’re cool.
You want to do things they enjoy.
Just so you can hang out with them more. Things you probably wouldn’t ever do, like watch five episodes of Supernatual in a row on a Sunday (okay, for real though, it’s actually a solid show). Or wait in line for two hours to see The Avengers: Infinity War on opening weekend (totally would do this regardless).
And they want you to want to.
They still get excited to show you things. Or tell you big news, or share something they think is cool with you. Just like when they were little and they wanted you to watch them build Minecraft houses and run around in a land your old eyes couldn’t even really make sense of for an hour.
They want to make you proud.
They aren’t these indifferent, self-absorbed creatures who only care about their friends and their phones. They want to do things that will make you proud, even if it seems like they’re trying to do the exact opposite.
They get scared.
To try new things.
They get lonely.
Even when they’re surrounded by friends.
They know their growing up is hard for you.
And they hate to see you cry about it.
It’s a helpless thing for them, right? They can’t help growing up, but they also don’t want to hurt you.
They can understand the way the world works and that is both scary and exciting.
Especially when they decide that they want to change it.
I hate to see their innocence slipping away, but I love to see them making sense of things on their own. And, it’s wonderful to see them stand up for things they believe in, fight against things they don’t, and take charge of the things they can. It’s like you’re actively watching them become the people they will be and it’s fascinating to see how that develops.
You have just as many hopes and dreams for them as you did on the day you met them.
Only now, you can actually kind of see how some of them will come true.
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