Advice from a parent of a teen in the trenches

Free stock photo of fashion, people, friends, womenI don’t know why I thought raising teenagers was going to be easy since my teen years didn’t go so well; so why would I think that my children would be the only ones in the history of the universe that would never roll their eyes, slam doors or get annoyed at my very existence? Even with all the psychology courses I took and books I’ve read, I truly thought we would be the .00001 percent that get to stay buddies through puberty.

It irritates me when people say, “Just wait until they turn into teenagers!” Like all of a sudden they morph into angry beasts that you no longer love. They do turn into beasts, but you still have to love them. I ascribe to the belief that each stage of parenting or development isn’t worse or better; it’s just different. Do they change? Sure. Do they suddenly develop the capacity to sleep until noon? Yeah. Can they get surly, emotional and swing from needing you desperately to hating you in five minutes? Weirdly, yes.

I think that’s one of the hardest parts of parenting is wondering, “Is this normal?” It even makes you question yourself: maybe I’m the freak here? I have to remind myself that they are just being a normal _____year old—it’s what they’re supposed to do. Toddlers are expected to have the mental tenacity of a mule and endurance of a gnat and teenagers are just really tall, psychotic toddlers—testing boundaries, love, limits and bonds—just to make sure your love and mental stamina is standard-issue military grade.

Just a heads-up: depending on how many offspring you have, you get a few sweet years getting 7-8 hours of sleep. Barring illness or occasional blankets falling off at night, my kids have generally left me alone for the past half-decade and it was A. Maze. Ing. What no one informed me of was that when your teenager starts to get a life, babysit, or hang out with friends, you have to stay up past 10 p.m. and I swear it makes me feel 80. I send her charming texts like, “You’re killin’ me Smalls. When are you coming home?”

Then she arrives and just as I wave her goodnight, she wants to tell.me.all.about.it. It takes all my motherly love not to go all toddler myself and snarl, “I already punched the time clock. I’m done with you people.” But then I remember that I need to treasure the fact that she wants to talk to me and this is practically a miracle so I push my eyelids up and remember what it feels like to be sleep deprived. Again.

I have approximately six years until I have a teen boy but in my experience with teen/tween girls, everything is a Big Deal. Everything. And everything is intensely personal. Everything. I fight the urge to say, “You won’t even know these people past high school!” or “You won’t even be able to remember this test 20 years from now!” and I want to grab her by the shoulders and say, “Just do your best and move on.Move on.

Ironically, BIG DEAL things to us (cell phone etiquette and safety, Internet predators, scary creepers around every corner) can appear to be “meh” to them. It’s 100 percent relative and maddening.

Free stock photo of person, woman, apple, iphoneI fully realize that for many, the teen years and early 20s have the unexpected addition of mental health issues that are unforeseen and certainly unwanted. For these families the normal turbulence crosses into territory that is an emotional war zone. As a member of a family that is very familiar with mental health challenges, I advise you to prepare yourself for a marathon and not a sprint. Not all days will be dark and not many will be pretty but your child is still in there and still needs you desperately. You will need support, education, respite and boundaries to shield your soul and I hope you find them.

One of the best parts of raising teens though, is that along the way you get glimpses of amazingness that you really were hoping was there all along, start to peek out. You catch them being kind and patient with a sibling or friend that you know drives them crazy and you think maybe they won’t end up on skid row after all. Or you hear them share their faith or feelings and you take a deep breath that they might not end up living in a box with empty whiskey bottles scattered around them. You see them persevere with a task that you know they really wanted to give up on and think that maybe they might be able to take you out to dinner one day once they’ve gotten their education. You hear observations of kindness and service from others when you weren’t around prodding them to do the right thing and you allow yourself a small moment of reverie.

Sometimes I turn on my phone to hear that my new handle is Hindle McCringle Pants and I love her all over again. These are the moments you hold onto when the slamming doors, rolling eyes and conflicts over rules, morals and clothing come into play — when they swear that you are the last mother on earth who expects her to comply with the signed cell phone contract, or really does think “see through” means “see through” and leggings are not pants.

Mamas of young ones, those intense and long sleepless nights are worth it because someday in the future you get to hang with some really cool people that (most of the time) like you. The physical exhaustion is replaced with the emotional and spiritual endurance to teach, listen, reteach, coach, work with and encourage people who are bound to do great things. Maybe not things that will make them famous but things that will mean a great deal to the few that surround them.

For those of us in the trenches with these half-child/half-adults with the volley of hormones, insecurities, self-image issues and the constant comparing of oneself to others flying over and around us—never mind that we are unfamiliar with new technology and social media—it’s easy to feel like a private first class instead of the four star general we imagined we’d be at this age. Luckily, our teens can lean on the fact that we are in their corner and we are smart enough, firm enough and flexible enough that when the battlefield is cooled and the smoke has cleared, there will be a relationship that withstood it all and is stronger, better and more beautiful for it. Carry on, soldier. Carry on.

Black Cannon in Front of the Brick Wall Building

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