Advice For New Teen Parents
So You’re The Parent of a Teen
As I sit at the table looking at my son, my heart squeezes. I remember a time when I was his whole world and how he clung to my leg when he was unsure of the outside world. I remember him begging me to take him with me when I had plans away from the family. I remember his excited little face when we’d go away for the weekend or go on vacation for a week. I remember when the biggest mistake he made was mixing the Play-Doh® colors. I remember feeling like I knew what I was doing. He was happy and content and the future held the promise of one big happy family doing happy family things.
I was blindsided. No one told me. I was going along doing my thing, thinking I have the hang of it and BAM! Everything I do is wrong. Suddenly, I am in the middle of a tornado, earthquake, blizzard and flood all at the same time. The energy sucked right out of me. Anxiety at levels I’ve never felt. Left in the path of destruction not knowing what the Hell I am doing.
Was I in an accident? No. I am the mother of a teenager.
I don’t want other parents to go into this unarmed with the knowledge that I didn’t have. Maybe if I warn them, it won’t feel like an ambush when they get here. I’ve come up with a few things I wish I had known. *Disclaimer: Not all teens are like this and I am not saying they are.
1. They suddenly live like vampires. They are tired all the time and want to sleep during the day when they should be awake and they want to be up at night when they should be asleep. No matter how tired they are, they are up late at night. It’s funny how they can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 1:00am watching Friends’ reruns but ask them to do homework at 2:00pm on a Sunday and they can’t keep their eyes open. This leads to:
2. They are slow. Painfully slow. Oh, if they have plans, they will speed by you in a blur to get out of the house but try to get them out of bed or upstairs to bed and you will see a pace that is similar to the snail or sloth. When asked to do anything around the house, it takes them twice as long to do it. I really think in my case, he is hoping that I’ll get frustrated enough that I’ll just do it myself. I can’t remember if they were hard to wake up in elementary school. It’s all a blur but now…there are no words for what our mornings are like.
3. They are never home. Never. I have one that is active in athletics so a lot of times he has a good reason for not being home. He is at practice or a game. However, the times he doesn’t have those things, he makes sure he is somewhere besides home. Suddenly everywhere is better than home. They will choose to wander the streets or sit in a parking lot over just coming home (and maybe going to bed at a decent hour). Things that they used to enjoy doing with the family, they now complain about not wanting to do. Anything that takes them away from their friends is a miserable experience. They will choose sitting in that parking lot doing nothing over sitting by a pool in Florida at their grandparents’ house over Spring Break. It is mind-boggling.
4. They lose things. I have more faith in my 4-year-old coming home with the sweatshirt she left the house in than I do my 15-year-old. They especially can’t find things when their ride is sitting in the driveway. And it will always be your fault that they can’t find whatever they are looking for. You might hear things like, “Where did you put my thingy with the (insert school mascot) on it? I just had it here. You must have moved it.” First of all, I have no idea what the “thingy” is. Once, I thought it was a water bottle but it turned out to be a hat. Second, PUT IT AWAY and you’ll know where it is! They need everything they own in plain sight otherwise they will forget they have it which brings me to the next one.
5. They are forgetful. I’m not sure how, on a four-day weekend, one forgets that he has math homework but you’d be surprised how many times that happens. A coach might tell them what time they have to be back at school for practice and ten minutes later, no one can remember what time he said. That my friends is a true story. There are times when they will use this to their advantage, say when you tell them what time to come home or when you ask them to do chores.
6. They will mess up. This was the hardest one for me. You will think it is the end of the world and that you have failed as a parent but it’s not and you haven’t. This is the time for them to learn for themselves what is right and what is wrong. You can repeat something over and over again hoping that they will just take your word for it but more than likely, they need to experience it to really understand it. For example, you can tell your teen a hundred times that it is wrong to go in a stranger’s pool but it won’t be until the cops are called and he’s hauled in with us having to pick him up from the station that he really got that it was wrong (he got off with a warning).
7. They will suck the money right out of you. I am amazed at how much money my kids constantly nickel and dime me. It is $5 here and $10 there and oh, I only have a $20 and I want the change but I never see it again. There is no such thing as, “I can’t go. I don’t have the money.” Instead, it’s, “Can you spot me and I’ll pay you back?” I’m still trying to figure out what he does around here that warrants all the money he spends. For the older teen, there is the constant eating out, the movies, away school games, and so on. For the tweens, you can’t send them to a friend’s house with no money in case the parents take them somewhere like the movies, open gym, CVS and so on. I need to find a system that works. At least with the tweens, they earn it. They babysit and do many chores around the house.
It’s not all bad. You’ll have real conversations where what you are saying still matters to them. They’ll ask your advice and then take it when you least expect it. There will be moments when you’ll recognize the little boy or little girl who once was and they’ll ask to cuddle or for a hug. There will be a constant pushing you away/pulling you close that if you aren’t careful, you’ll miss the pulling you close moments because you’re still mad at the pushing away ones.
There is no feeling like that of being out of control of a situation and that of raising teens. For a control freak like myself, it’s been a huge struggle. You want to keep them safe like you always have but they fight you on it all and you realize you can’t anymore. You spent so much time making sure you got a safe car with a top of the line car seat so that they’d be safe in the car and then suddenly, their friends are driving or they are driving and you can’t control whether they stay safe. You make them three balanced meals every day when they are little and then they are so “on the go” that you have no idea when the last time they ate was. You’ll think you know your kid so well and then they’ll do something (good or bad) and you’ll look at them and wonder who the heck they are? You’ll have moments of immense pride and moments of huge disappointments and realize that they are their moments. They are their own people making their own decisions and we can no longer control what they decide. It’s a constant learning experience and it is exhausting.
It does not escape me that I only have two more years with my teen until he goes off to college (please, dear God let him go off to college) and I really do think life works so that when the time comes, you are ready to let them go off into their world where they are going to need to make it without you holding their hand all the time. I, for one, cannot wait until he has to get himself up for his first college class because I won’t be their stressing out that he’s going to be late or he is going to make someone else late. It’s the age-old irony: I can’t wait until he is out of the house doing things on his own and I am going to miss him so much that it hurts to think about it. I am sure when the time comes, I will be begging for a little more time with him before it all changes and he’ll look at me and say, “See, I told you that you were going to miss me.”