Recently, I’ve become aware of a new movement that seems intent on educating the public on the joys of parenting teenagers. One Facebook friend is never short on praise of her teens, highlighting endearing and funny stories about how “cray” they are, how much they make her laugh, how intelligent, how awesome. Then, there was a podcast where the guest and host told the listeners about how much harder the toddler years are than the teenage years. Their message was “have hope, mamas of littles, it gets better!” Most recently, there was a whole chapter in the book I was reading about how delightful teenagers are to have in the house.
And they are so right…
I love getting death stares upon saying “good morning” to my daughter.
No better way to start the day, you know?
I adore an exhaustive and challenging argument should I say “no” to a sleepover request.
Fighting’s my favorite.
I swoon when you ask them to clean their rooms or— God forbid—help you bring in the groceries, and they grunt in disgust or flat out say “no,” leaving you having to come up with a talk or disciplinary action on the fly while they stare at you like “are you f***ing joking?”
Absolutely delightful, I tell you.
The teenage years are SO much better than the terrible two’s. The two year olds have temper tantrums. And teenagers don’t…er, except they do. Teens are known for being real rational and even keeled, you know? Not moody at all.
And as far as intelligence goes, those women are so right. Teens are very intelligent. In fact, they know everything! You only thought you knew more about how things work, what with all the life experience and college education, but you were wrong. Thank goodness for teenagers who save the day with their inherent wisdom and ideas about how things should be done.
They do have it right in one area though. Teens ARE hilarious. Mine makes me laugh everyday – like when she tells me with absolute sincerity that she will vote for Kanye for president because you can’t judge people by the way they present themselves, and, besides, it doesn’t mean he would be a bad president! Or when she explains why a punishment for sneaking out should only involve a gentle “oh honey, don’t do that again, alright?” and definitely not ever taking phones or devices away because if the consequence actually stings or is hard to bear, it “doesn’t work” and only makes her want to do whatever the poor decision was more.
God help us.
Listen ya’ll, I think parenting teens is neither a delightful cake walk or the worst thing in the world, although I’m sure there are exceptions to both those.
You want to really know what parenting a teen is like? It’s confusing and weird and no one knows what they are doing, but even so, parents receive either applause or judgment about their parenting based on their teen’s performance. And it’s such bullshit.
I need to talk to the parents of the teenagers who are having, at times, a challenging go at this thing. I’d like to just stand up and publicly state here that whatever poor choices your kid makes, I do not think your kid is bad. I am not instructing my kid to not hang out with yours. I don’t believe that your children’s choices are a reflection of how good or bad or involved or uninvolved of a parent you are. I believe there’s such a thing as children needing to test boundaries and limits, and experiment and tempt fate and learn how to be in their world by way of failing and messing up, which, may I remind everyone is EXACTLY WHAT’S EXPECTED OF CHILDREN AT THIS AGE—and— IT’S FREAKING SCARY.
When I was fifteen, a friend and I left her house in the middle of the night and thought it might be a great idea to walk the streets of Los Angeles to another house about a mile and a half away. Midway through our journey, a car pulled over full of what I’ll describe here as “scary older kids” with a need to humiliate. They proceeded to make us get on our knees and bark like dogs while they howled with laughter. “City of Angels” my ass. Now I ask you, dear reader, do you think we thought about a scenario like this before we left? Do you think we considered that we could possibly get harassed or kidnapped or that someone might think we were prime candidates for human trafficking by making this choice? Heck no, it just sounded fun.
I firmly have come to believe that “good parenting” has more to do with the undercurrent and overall well being of a child than the specific choices they make while their brains are still developing and are prone to “risky behaviors.” And I’ll tell you what, the stunning display of backlash I receive when I ask my teen to wash the dishes is “risky behavior” indeed.
Kids come hardwired with a propensity to either conform or buck the system. To be a people pleaser or a challenger. To be quiet and gentle or fierce and loud. To have a tendency towards obeying the rules or being a rule breaker. And before they are grown and have a harness on this inclination, and can decide how best to make it work for them (the application of wisdom), they are experimenting with this sort of behavior with an immature brain, so it can make this teen stage hard to be a party to.
Because of this, parenting teens will have you wondering whether you really are a terrible mother despite all your best efforts one minute because they drank alcohol at a party, and then patting yourself on the back for the A+ they earned in Chemistry plus a glowing teacher report, the next. Teenagers, and your experience of them, are a walking, talking contradiction.
It’s like this: you know in The Sound Of Music where the nuns are singing How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
When I’m with her I’m confused
out of focus and bemused
and I never know exactly where I am
Unpredictable as weather
she’s as flighty as a feather
she’s a darling
she’s a demon
she’s a lamb
She’ll out pester any pest
drive a hornet from it’s nest
she could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl
She is gentle, she is wild
she’s a riddle, she’s a child
she’s a headache
she’s an angel
she’s a girl.
Many a thing you know you’d like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
but how do you make her stay?
and listen to all you say?
how do you keep a wave upon the sand?
YOUR TEENAGER IS MARIA.
And you are responsible for Maria when she is all over the place emotionally and there is no gauge to determine how well you are doing and she just seems to be confusing and rude but then also nice and pleasant and the whole ordeal just makes your brain into scrambled eggs.
Also your teen is not a nun like Maria, so you still have to worry about their morality.
I’m so sorry, but this is the very best way I can think of to explain it to you. Teenagers are fun. Teenagers are not fun. Teenagers are bright. Teenagers are dumb. They are all the things. I’m so going to get in trouble for saying teenagers are dumb, aren’t I? But here is one thing you need to watch out for that I suspect is universal: Teenagers have selective memory when it comes to how they remember you as a parent and there is nothing you can do about it.
They will blame and slander your name for things that aren’t even true. They don’t even care.
Just now, as I was writing this, my teen rifled through my pantry and fridge exclaiming that we “never have any food in the house!”
I guess I’m just supposed to remember that this stage is delightful and that she is so funny—HILARIOUS EVEN—for turning her nose up at the fresh organic berries, frozen pizza pockets, bag of chips, avocados, gourmet chocolate bars, perfectly good eggs SHE COULD MAKE HERSELF, bagels and cream cheese, tortillas, bread, peanut butter and jelly, and apples on the counter, which are all there right now apart of the “no food in the house”—I swear to it— but because there is not a to-go chicken burrito or hot and sour soup from the take out place down the street I have “nothing.” Ha, ha…HA. So funny. I love this.
This is the kind of stuff they pull. Sometimes they tell you stories and laugh and are lovely, truly. Sometimes they get all giddy and let you in on their latest crush and get pumped to go snowboarding and their delight is infectious. It’s true. Sometimes you just look at this growing adult you gave birth to and pray they forgive you for not being everything they need and deserve because your love for them is so fierce and your ability and skills so limited.
And also, they’ll judge and spread rumors about your “not having any food.” A story I’m sure she’ll tell her friends and future therapist, who will all pity her for having such a neglectful mom, a legacy I can never actually prove wrong since we can’t time travel to the specific days the teen complained and take stock of the food situation, DAMMIT.
And so you just have to take it even though it’s not true. Like a duck letting the water run off your back.
At least I think this is probably what you should do over, say, taking pictures and attaching them to a blog post as proof of the food you buy. This seems like a monumental waste of time since the teenager in question will likely just accuse you of buying the food items after the fact and acting as if they were there the whole time even though I’m known for my authenticity and would never do something like that, but you know, maybe I am just sick of taking it and feel the need to do something…ANYTHING to release some of this pent up “taking it” energy or else I will die. DIE I TELL YOU.
Yes, raising a teenager is the gift that keeps on giving.
Everyone is right.
PS- look who finally found herself something to eat in this neglectful, barren, shell of a house…
PPS- For anyone worried I’ve exploited my teenager, I will inform you that despite whatever you think, she was absolutely thrilled that I was writing about her, even in a snarky way. She knows how she is. She also knows how I am. We good.