One day, and it really will seem like it’ll be overnight, your baby, who you have sacrificed so much for (and yet you aren’t supposed to talk about what you’ve given up to have children because it’s absolutely been your choice and you knew what you were in for when you chose to have a child)– your baby will have become a stranger. A stranger who takes and takes from you. He’ll take your energy, your time, your money, and basically your belief in humanity. He’ll become belligerent for no apparent reason. He’ll become deaf to your offers to help him and blind to anyone other than himself and his own needs. He’ll say the meanest things to you and about you to anyone who will listen, all while you work and work to figure out how to help him succeed. But there is no manual. He will become the world’s most unsolvable puzzle. There is nothing to help you. There is no “Teenager and Me” class at the hospital like the “Mommy and Me” class you took when you were learning to care for a baby. And even if there was, you’d have no time to attend.
When your baby is a baby, people will probably help you because being a new parent is really hard. Your hormones are out of whack, you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re so, so tired, and you are beyond overwhelmed. People may help you pick up your house, or they may bring food or watch the baby while you sleep. When you have a teenager, there is no help. Your hormones may be out of whack again (perimenopause at the same time as adolescence! What kind of a cruel trick is that?! Thanks, Biology.) There is no offer to take your teenager off your hands while you spend some quality time with your partner. Even if there is an offer, you’re not sure the person offering will be able to manage the shitstorm that is your life, and if you like that person and want to remain friends with them, you don’t want to do that to them. Your parents, who may have been helpful when you had a baby, are now nearly two decades older, meaning they may by physically less capable of helping, and certainly less in-touch to the struggles of today’s high school students. Many of the other involved parents of teenagers seem to be competing to see who can have the busiest lives and be the most involved in their children’s lives. They are clearly better than me, because I have a confession. I do not like going to my kids’ sporting events. I go because I love my kids and I support them in whatever healthy things they want to do (note: I added “healthy” as an afterthought, because now that I have a high school student, I’ve learned that I do not support everything my children do). I smile and clap and cheer and yell my kids’ names, but I do not enjoy myself. I feel uncomfortable being forced into conversations with other parents who smile proudly as they tell me about the hours they’ve spent waiting for their children in parking lots while their child spends time with friends. Or who talk about the morning practices that my child misses because it’s 6:00 am and he needs sleep, and I see in their faces that they are definitely trying not to judge me for not forcing him to attend, but it’s really difficult for them. And there are the parents who somehow have it all together and whose children seem to have it all together, too. No one is thinking that my child has it all together. All this talk makes me feel much less than they are. Less of a good parent, less of a juggler who can keep all the balls in the air, less involved because I want to nurture my other child as well as my relationship with my husband, especially when I feel like he and I are riding this sinking ship to the bottom. We’re like the old couple holding hands while our cabin fills with icy water on the Titanic.
It is taboo to complain about all of this. However, I just want to say that if a real-life person treated you like your child has started treating you, your friends would tell you that you are in a toxic relationship and you need to get out. No one should talk to you like that. No one should be trying to hide stuff from you like he does. This is not a good relationship. Maybe you should get couples’ counseling. But this is different, because you chose to bring this stranger into your house about 14 years ago, give or take, and you’ve poured your heart and soul into trying to make him a good person and to make good choices. So don’t complain… You did this to yourself and you don’t have a right to complain. It’s just what teenagers do. That’s what they’re supposed to do.
I call bullshit.
Honestly, I am in hell. This person who I brought into the world… who I’ve spent so much time focused on and worrying about– is giving us a new reason to worry daily. Every day there is a new drama, a new threat to his safety, a new mountain to climb. And I literally don’t know how to navigate this.
Our teenagers in 2019 are among the first to have the amount of and access to technology like they do. They are among the first few generations who have two working parents, especially in conjunction with expectations that they should be doing every sport and activity the universe has to offer, and they probably need to volunteer too, because if they don’t, they’re not good people. Also, they need to get really good grades and save money for the college that those really good grades are supposed to get them accepted to. It’s no wonder mental health issues among kids (and their parents) are on the rise; no one can keep up with the pressures put upon them– even their parents can’t. Well, at least this parent can’t (imagine me here with my two thumbs pointed at myself). Parents of high school students are basically trailblazers right now. I am here to tell the parents that are following me that I am not the person to follow. I do not know what I am doing. Find another parent. Probably one of those I talked about a couple of paragraphs ago- they seem to know what they’re doing. I promise that I know much less now than when I brought that baby home from the hospital.
So, I am proposing that parents of teenagers raise each other up. We help each other. When asked, “How are you?” we say, “I have a terrorist in my house who I love more than anything who is pushing me away so hard and it hurts so bad and he makes no sense and he lies so much and I am playing a game of chess every day from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to bed and then I’m dreaming about it and his grades are bad and I can’t keep up with work and home and I’m tired and puffy-eyed and just really fucking sad most of the time right now. How are you?” Instead of feeling shamed by these feelings– these feelings that I am not the biggest fan of this person I brought into the world– I’d like to feel validated. I’d like to come together and show other parents love and support and be united in helping each other. We can help each other by showing kindness. We can unite about rules surrounding technology. We can share tips and tricks. Mostly, we can be honest, supportive, and non-shaming.
It’s okay to hate being a mom or dad sometimes. It really is. Clearly, once you’ve brought a child into your life, you’ll be a mom or dad forever and ever, and the love for your child doesn’t change. But it’s okay to be sad when it’s really hard. It’s okay to cry because of postpartum depression, and it is also okay to cry because of perimenopause. It’s okay to cry because you’re worried sick about your child. It’s okay to put the baby down and let it cry because it’s safer than you holding it, just as it’s okay to send your teenager to his room and go for a walk because one of you could be hurt by words. It’s okay to mourn the loss of your life before kids, even when it’s been over 14 years since you’ve not had a child. Admitting these things doesn’t mean you’re giving up, it means you’re being honest.
Let’s be honest and kind. To each other and to ourselves. Starting now.