Friday, September 14, 2012

Parenting Teen-Agers

Yesterday Swistle (she of the genius-level Spite Charity, which is saving my molars from being ground completely to nubs during this political season) commented right here in this little corner of the internet. She had two requests--one was a picture of the in-progress T-shirt quilt. Done! (Unlike the actual quilt, but one of these days I'm sure there will be numerous posts about it.)

The other request was more much more difficult to complete.

"I am dying of discouragement with my first teenager, and he is only on the CUSP of all the really scary teenager stuff. If you felt at any time like writing survival-tip posts, I would hang on your every word," she said.

The reason this is difficult to complete is because we parents of post-teenagers have a dirty little secret that we don't normally share with any parents just starting that stage. We don't normally share it, but since Swistle asked so nicely, I'm going to whisper it in your ear. The secret is this:

There is no secret.

There. It's out. We all, and I include every single parent in the world in this generalization, are making it up as we go along. We are doing the best we can every day, then getting up the next day and doing it again, but we don't have any Magic Keys to Contentment for You and Your Teen. 

I did not imagine that would be the case, back before I had teenagers. Then I knew exactly how I was going to parent them through this moat between childhood and maturity. I would be firm but fair. I would love them unconditionally. I would listen to their side of their story, but I be the PARENT not the friend. I would remember that my relationship with their father took precedence over my relationship with them. I would remember that I was the adult.


Ahem. Oh, they're terrific "rules" and I still believe in them, but occasionally I would look back on my list of Magic Keys and shake my head because those rules assume an orderly progression in the universe and the teenage years are the anti-orderly progression. Then I would do the best I could until the end of that day, and get up the next day and do it again.

That said, because you asked for survival tips, here are a few that helped me. I preface these by saying that they helped with MY teenagers in MY family, and your mileage may vary. Even now, when the Boys have emerged from the teen years and have not yet served jail time, I remind myself that far better parents than I cannot say the same thing. (You are reading Woulda Coulda Shoulda, aren't you? If not, you should be. Next to my own mom, this may be the wisest mother I know, and she's dealing with heartbreak beyond heartbreak.)

1. Remember that at this point the brain housed in your beloved's skull is completely wack-a-doodle, to use a technical term. NPR had a really good story about the teenaged brain, and it helped me realize that the hijinks that left me drop-jawed were not necessarily designed solely to drive me crazy. The question "What were you thinking?" may elicit sullen silence not because they're sullen  but because they really don't know what they were thinking. Or they may be sullen, because they are up to their beautiful blue eyes in...

2. Hormones. They have a lot of them, and the control mechanisms for these hormones apparently were made in a third-rate sweatshop because they are defective. I won't go into this in detail because Hi, Boys! but you know how you feel from time to time? That feeling that your skin is just too irritating to wear and that you would like to take it off and iron it because it is making you mad? They feel like this quite a lot. Of course, being aware of their hormonal imbalances does not help one bit when they've just gone into a sulk because of the way you chew your gum.

3. The worst of it doesn't last forever. My mom, the best mother EVER, always talked about the transition to teen years as being the only times she did not enjoy her children. She said this transitional stage took exactly one year, and that you could set your clock by it. So the first time Boy#1, my pleaser, looked at me and said "Yeah? So?" I marked it on the calendar. Sure enough, exactly one year later Mr. Defiant disappeared and sweet One was (mostly) back with us. This held true for all four of the Boys, although Hell Year started when they were as young as 11 and as old as 13 years.

4. There are moments that will delight you. Every once in a while you will look up from swimming the moat, and your child will look up at the same moment, and you will see the man he is becoming and you will like that man and be proud of him and know you're not wasting the time you spend helping him across the moat. Because that's what you're doing, you know. He's not having much fun, either. (Can you imagine walking around in that irritating skin all the time? Shudder.)

5. Your child is still there. If you loved him before, you will love him again. Just do your best, every day, then get up the next day and do it again.

Also, chocolate helps.


  1. This is a perfect post . . . a t-shirt quilt photo and the best wisdom I've heard in a long time! Thank you! :)

  2. You are very wise. #4 is so true and when it happens it is worth all the stress/crap/frustration from #1,2, and 3.

  3. Very very true! Love the quilt too. I too am working on a tee shirt quilt for my youngest.

  4. I got here through Swistle's blog, and I was excited to see your t-shirt quilt because I've been contemplating making one but didn't know if it'd be worth it. I think yours looks like it'll be great. Also, I very much appreciate your thoughts on parenting a teenager. I am on the cusp of doing just that, and thought number three, especially, was interesting to me. Then numbers four and five got me all teary because I can see already they are true, so thank you.

  5. I've had this open on my desktop for days now, so I can read it again and again. Thank you for writing it. And I love the pre-quilt!

  6. I had to come back and comment about #3 again, because it just recently occurred to me (yes, I'm slow sometimes), that my teen daughter is currently going through this year of change. I had thought she missed her year, but oh no, she is deep into it as I type. For her it started at 16, and may I say I am so looking forward to her 17th birthday, in hopes that this one year will be over! Watching the calendar in hopes that the end is near! Knowing that it won't last, I've adapted a this-won't-last attitude towards her attitude and it really keeps her on her toes. I think she wants to ruffle my feathers, yet since reading your post I'm doing my best to not allow that to happen. It's fun to toss back a few "oh well"s and "whatever"s to her every now and again.

    It's funny how I didn't recognize this was happening with her at first. I should have been prepared, since my oldest son also had his year late by most standards. He went through it in his late teen years as well. I didn't get a free pass with either of them, as I first thought I would, since they passed 13 effortlessly. Motherhood is full of surprises and unexpected hurdles.

    Thanks again for being so informative and strong, and showing us that we can and we will get through these years, and that so much is wonderful on the other side!

  7. Twister, I really believes that no one escapes. They may delay, they may accelerate, but eventually it happens to every child. Well, every child except that creepy guy who lived with his mother all his life, but that's exactly not our dream outcome for our children.