10 Things Moms of Teen Boys Must Know

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Ever wonder what it will be like when your little boys hit puberty? Think the teen years will be exciting, challenging, and fulfilling? Want someone who has “been there, done that” to tell you how it really is?

Well holy AXE spray, zit cream, and hairy legs, I. AM. THERE. I am treading water in the teen angst cesspool (also knows as their bedroom) and desperately gasping for sanity in male-adolescent-hormone-infested waters. Waters that run deep, wide, smart-mouthed, and scruffy-chinned. Where dirty boxer shorts, crumpled up and forgotten homework assignments, lost ear buds, sweaty socks, and junk food wrappers are forever afloat. These waters do not come with a lifeboat. (Honestly, I don’t need a lifeboat, I need a pressure washer and a bullhorn, but we will get to that in a sec.)

Don’t get me wrong: my teenagers are great kids. They do well in school, are witty, empathetic, amusing, and are actually growing into really cool adults. But there are minutes, days, sometimes weeks where I — in teen terms — like, TOTES. CAN’T. EVEN. wrap my mind around their behavior.

I wish someone had told me…..

1. Everything will smell. Their car. Their closet. Their bathroom. Their bedroom. The hallway that leads to their room. It will be a funky, sweaty, noxious, musty, foul, deodorant soap-covering-perspiration, “I am no longer a little boy” type of odor. No candle, plug-in, floral spray or wax melt comes close to touching it. So stop trying. When they move out, painting the room and replacing the carpet MAY help. I say MAY.

2. They will suddenly want to wash their own sheets. They will bounce down the stairs with all of their bedding wrapped up in a tiny ball, duck into the laundry room, and out of nowhere suddenly want to start the washing machine with no help. Don’t ask. Don’t help. Don’t acknowledge. Move on, mom. This doesn’t involve you. Just a boy and his dreams.

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3. There is no frustration greater than teaching a teenager how to drive. I’m almost done teaching my second son how to drive. I’ve got chewed-up cuticles, severe hair loss, and a scrip for reducing heart palpitations to prove it. No matter how cautious, careful, and smart of a driver they appear to be, and even with mom riding shotgun, dents will happen. So will things like, “Does yellow happen before or after green?” and, “Is 65 the fastest I can go?” Shoot. Me. Now.

4. When not sleeping, they are eating. Ever wake up at 3 a.m. to what sounds like raccoons in your kitchen digging through the garbage for food? Folks at Costco finally give you a parking spot up front? Then you get it. I live in “Never Enough Burritos” land. Someone please invent a pepperoni pizza patch that I can slap on their arms and that will offer 24-hour continuous nourishment.

5. When not eating, they are sleeping. When I had a house full of babies that woke everyday before sunrise, never, ever, EVER did I think that I would ever sleep in again. But teens? They SLEEP THE HELL IN!! Like until NOON. Comatose almost. Not gonna lie, it’s freakin’ awesome. Awesome until they have to wake up at dawn, like, say, for school. Then you are totally screwed. Invest in a bullhorn and pray for Saturdays.

6. They will take risks. Big ones. Mind-numbing ones. Risks that your shy, overly cautious, hesitant little boy would never take. (Personally, I think the part of the brain that kept him wary and watchful is now controlled by images of boobies and butts, but who knows.) Basically, boy brains are fearless, reckless, and have zero sense of consequences. If you’ve ever uttered the words, “Not my kid,” take it back. Take it back right effing NOW. Trust me.

7. They think they know everything. Yes, that cliché is true, and they will actually say this to your face. I literally recorded mine saying it to me. Even he laughed. This brazen way of thinking must somehow be a survival mechanism. Perhaps if they had an authentic grasp of adulthood and what real life will throw at them someday, they wouldn’t even want to reach 18. Let’s just allow them to keep thinking they know everything. Why ruin the party?

8. They will not want to hug much anymore. Like ever. But keep trying. You will become the physical form of kryptonite, and when they see you with your arms outstretched, they may run away in horror. Keep trying anyway. Because out of the blue one day, they will toss their arm around your shoulder and give a squeeze, a grin, and say “I love you mom.” (It may only occur when your trunk is full of groceries but hey, take what you can get.) They may seem aloof and un-wanting of your affection, but don’t believe it. They want it. Hug when and if you can.

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9. Showers. All day. Every day. Go ahead and buy the low-flow shower head on their 13th birthday, as it will save you about $500 a year. Kids you previously had to beg, bribe, and literally chase down and throw into the shower now spend a quarter of their entire day in there. And yet, still #1. Washing diligently? Probably not, but don’t be that mom who knocks and cracks an embarrassing joke. Just don’t.

10. You thought your newborn grew overnight? You won’t believe these spurts. The mere fact that these boys I now have to crane my neck and look UP to used to fit in the football hold under my arm is mind-boggling. But it happens. And it does so at warp speed. They will go to bed one night with the voice of a Vienna Choir boy and walk out the next morning Pavarotti. Pants that one day you have to roll up will be capris the next. We have skipped three whole shoe sizes at one time. Must have something to do with #4. In the blink of an eye you will go from holding the soft padded hands of a little boy to holding a hand that feels like your husband’s. And the one thing you really need to know? Watching your boys turn into men is pretty darn cool.

Related post: 10 Things You Need to Know About Raising a Teenager

What No One Ever Tells You About Raising a Teenage Daughter

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As you held your squirming tiny bundle of adorable girl child for the first time, you probably envisioned pretty pink bows and frilly ruffles being lovingly placed on your gorgeous little lady. You would hug her and smile with her for all eternity and everything would be sunshine and roses, right?

WRONG!

During the constant deluge of unsolicited advice you received while pregnant, no one told you about what happens when they turn into teenagers. You were one of these creatures. So was I! A reckless, defiant, asshole of a teenager, I might add. The words, “I hope you have a daughter just like you!” flew out of my mother’s mouth more than once. Who knew her prophecy would come true in such a staggeringly accurate and frightening way? Sure, my daughter has a little more nurturing and self-esteem than I had, some brunette DNA from my husband, and a few different habits born of this Internet age, but basically, SHE IS MY CLONE! And it’s not all that great.

Here’s what no one ever tells you about having a teenage daughter…

1. They’re body-snatchers. They literally steal your body. No, really, they do! That 5 foot 6 inches and 118 pounds of smooth dancer’s grace…that was you. It’s like the little thief absorbed it right through the placenta and somehow hid it under her skin all these years, only to expose it on her fourteenth birthday, for you to never ever see it in the mirror again.

2. That’s not all they steal. You like having pads when that time of the month comes? Sorry, nope. Teenage Mutant Ninja Daughter started twelve hours before you and now they’re all gone! As is your fingernail polish remover, your sanity, your favorite book, your hairspray, that Wonder Woman shirt you loved—although it was too small to be worn in public and not have any of the best-when-hidden bits falling out, it was YOURS! Now it’s gone, and it looks better on her. UGH!

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3. They always need to go somewhere. Every. Single. Day. A friend’s house, various sports practices, dance classes, extra school assignments that can’t possibly get done during school hours. Pack some granola bars away in the glove box, my friend. Your car is your new second home until she gets her license. And then she’ll probably try to steal your car, too!

4. They’re hypochondriacs. Something ALWAYS hurts. “I have a headache,” “my knee hurts,” “I have cramps. Where’s the heating pad?” Seriously? You logically know that 90% of these aches and pains are probably hormonal or growing pains since she’s shot up 6 inches in the last 3 years. There’s not much that can be done about them, but when you suggest going to the doctor and let her know that blood will probably have to be drawn, suddenly she feels all better! Till tomorrow. Sheesh!

5. You will be jealous of her (See #1). This I was not expecting at all. I remember watching her try on clothes one day, dismissing my “so ’90s” suggestions, and twisting around to see herself in her odd little whimsical creation that she modeled after something she saw on Pinterest, and I thought, “WOW! She’s stunning!” And I felt myself turn green. I will never have that toned body, wrinkle free skin, thick hair, and all-over perkiness ever again. Who knew you could actually be jealous of one of your own most magnificent creations?

6. Girls fart just as much as boys. And laugh their butts off, too. Then they blame it on their brothers/the cat/creaky floorboards. Pass the Febreeze!

7. She has more attitude and snark than can possibly be handled by one human in a single day. But she has it EVERY DAY! And even though you’re a wise, mature adult, you’ll find yourself dishing it right back! Where does she think she gets it? She’s just the student in this class; you’re the master! Then when your cycles sync up and you have a migraine, well…wine is your friend. I prey she doesn’t need as much therapy as I did. I should start a savings jar for that.

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8. You will try with all your might, and probably fail, to keep your own body image issues from her ears at all times. No matter what you do, she will develop her own, anyways. She is surrounded by other girls at school 8 hours a day; since you cannot control their body issues, or their mothers’ body issues, or their mothers’ mothers’ body issues, she will need your constant reassurance that she is perfect and beautiful. It’s a cruel world for a girl. If you can’t protect her from it, I say try to balance out the negative with some positive.

9. She will astound you and make you feel downright stupid with her brilliance. Her math skills and knowledge of current events will surpass your own at a staggering rate. You’ll find that her intelligence only grows with age, and you can barely remember if you’ve had breakfast yet today. (You haven’t, go eat!)

10. Last, but not least… She will be your greatest friend. I’m not saying you’ll take her to her first kegger or dish with her about all your past and her future sexual exploits. What I mean is that she sees when you’ve been crying and hugs you before anyone else even notices you were feeling down. She will tell you which shoes look best with a certain pair of pants, or when you’re wearing too much perfume. She will be the first one to tell you “Happy Birthday” and the last one to say “I Love You” at night before bed. She is your best girlfriend and I hope she always will be. There will sometimes be things you can’t talk with her about, but you know if you need a hug and some chocolate, she’ll always have your back.

So, embrace that pretty pink bundle of newborn, snuggle with that grumpy sticky toddler, dance ridiculously with your tween tomboy, and know what lies ahead is a chaotic mess of insecurities, heartaches, beauty, and love.

She’ll grow out of the attitude once she turns eighteen, right? No?

Shit.

Related post: The Multiple Personalities of a Tween Girl

10 Things You Need To Know About Raising a Teenager

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I am a teen expert. Why? Because I have two teens, I was a teen, sometimes I’m on the local news and they call me a teen expert. But mostly, because I say so.

Drawing on this vast because-I-said-so expertise, I’ve come up with a list of the absolutely CRUCIAL things you need to know to survive your own kids’ teenaged years.

1. They Know Everything, You Know Nothing. The fact that you don’t know and acknowledge this is just proof, as far as your omnipotent teen is concerned, of it’s utter, complete truth.

When you have teens, the soundtrack of your life is snorts, the backdrop, eye-rolls.  Get used to it.  They’ll come around by the time they’re 25.  And like the old joke says, by then, they’ll be amazed at how much you’ve learned in ten years.

2. They Hate/Love you, and you Love/Hate them back. I’ve always said, either my child is suffering from a soap opera worthy dual personality disorder, or it’s puberty…so I’m going with puberty.

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Your teenager will alternately want nothing to do with your know-nothing self, or desperately want your attention, approval and love.  They will snort and eye-roll their way through dinner, but then want to be tucked in at night, cuddled, coddled, and otherwise revert back to their toddler selves. They will be mortified by your very existence at their big game, but devastated if you miss it.

It’s the hormones.

You, in turn, will alternately feel like you want to knock them unconscious, lock them in a time machine and make them turn back into their un-hairy, clear skinned, non-attitude infested selves, or be made breathless by the wonder of their maturity and intelligence and the feeling that they’re growing up way too fast.

3. Your Teenaged Daughter Will Think she’s too fat/too thin/too ugly/too short/too tall/ too something and it’s not your Fault. There is no such thing as an unattractive teenaged girl.  Their skin – even if marred with acne – somehow glows.  Their bodies – even if under or over weight – are somehow perfectly suited to them.  They are all gorgeous.  Yet practically to a girl, they think they are too (fill in the blank.)

It’s magazines, sure.  It’s Kardashians, and music videos, and the male hierarchy thrusting an impossible standard of beauty on unassuming girls.

But I think there must be some kind of biological imperative that makes teenaged girls think they’re unattractive, despite physical evidence to the contrary.

Don’t blame yourself.  It wasn’t that you didn’t model good body-image behavior.  It wasn’t that you didn’t praise her enough, or praised her too little.  Or maybe you did.  But it really wouldn’t have mattered.

It’s the hormones. 

4. They Are Nice to Everyone Who Isn’t You. They say this is a good thing.  That teenagers being beyond horrible to you but kind, helpful and respectful to everyone else means that they’re well brought up, yet comfortable enough at home, and confident enough in your love, to let it all hang out when no one else is around.

Which sounds reasonable, except when they’re being horrendous to you. When that happens, you’re just wishing you were everyone else, and they were anyone else.  Which they will be, if you wait a few hours– see #2, above.

5. They will Make Some Really Stupid Choices (and that’s OK.) Remember that time you and your three girlfriends met a guy on the beach and he invited you all to a party, and then he showed up at your house in a van filled with  12 other guys and you and your friends just hopped in and let them drive you away?

Oh, wait. That was me.

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It was pretty seriously stupid.  But nothing happened. Nothing went wrong. They drove us to a party, we had fun, they drove us home.

Were we lucky?  Sure. But not every mistake is fatal.  Most of the time, the dumb things we did as teenagers just end up being dumb things we did as teenagers, nothing more.  They’re the things that lead us to new experiences, new places, new friends.  They’re the things that make us realize, even as we climb into the van, that we likely shouldn’t have done it, and know that even though all went well, we won’t do it again.

The teenager who never makes any mistakes will grow into the adult who never takes chances.

And that would be a bummer.

6. No Matter How Much Food you Buy, it will Never be Enough. I have a friend with three teenaged boys.  Every day, she makes an entire box of pasta just before they get home from school and leaves it on the stove.  It’s what they have for an after school snack.

Another friend’s son drinks a gallon of milk every day.

My son generally goes through a dozen yogurts, a pound of sliced turkey, and a half dozen bagels every two to three days.

My advice?  Clip coupons, and live vicariously.  Because if you’re old enough to have a teenaged boy, you’re way too old be able to eat like that anymore.

7. There will be Mess. Somewhere in the “how to be a teenager” handbook, there must be a paragraph ordering teenagers to throw their coats on the floor when they walk in the door, leave their pants and underwear wherever it is they happen to take them off, and to never, ever, make the bed.

Their rooms will drive you crazy.  You will sometimes have to clear a path to get from the door to the bed.  And sometimes, it will smell.  Like, really, really bad.

This is NOT the hormones, this is the lazy, I’ll-do-it-later modus operandi of every teenager since time began.

Sorry.

8. You will be Wistful. There will come a time when you walk by a toddler rushing, joy unbounded, into his waiting mother’s arms. And you will tear up. And you will feel sad that all you get is the aforementioned snorting and eye rolling, and you will wonder where the time goes.

Get over it. Because also…

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9. You Will Be Grateful. There will come a time, when you will be stuck at a restaurant/at the grocery store/heaven forbid in a plane, and you will see a toddler having a no holds barred, screaming, hysterical, tantrum. And you will see his mother, incapable of stopping it, humiliated, defeated. And you will think smugly to yourself: been there, done that. Better her than me.

10. This too Shall Pass. Remember when you had a newborn, and you thought he’d never sleep through the night?

He did.

Remember when your toddler was in a whining phase you thought would never end?

It did.

This too, shall pass.  The teenaged years, like every other phase, come to an end.

And then they’ll go off to college, and you’ll cry, and you’ll miss them, and you’ll wonder how you ever wished they would just grow up and go off to college already. Because even though your teenager love-hates you, knows everything, does stupid things, eats you out of house and home, and quite frankly, smells…you love him or her.

And in the end, that’s the only crucial fact about your teenager either one of you needs to know.

Related post: 5 Ways Toddlers Are Easier Than Teens

Parenting An Average Student

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One of the most challenging aspects of raising my son was accepting the fact that he was an unmotivated student. Though his father and I tried not to let his grades define how we saw him, especially during high school, they did have an impact on how we viewed ourselves as parents. We had moments of self-doubt and, at times, questioned the way we had raised him. What had we we done wrong?  What did we miss or fail to do to motivate him to succeed?

Nothing really, it turns out.

It was never up to us to motivate him in the first place. He had to find the motivation within himself.

In the hyper-competitive world of AP classes, honor rolls, valedictorians, students-of-the-month, perfect SAT scores, 4.0 and above GPAs, scholar athletes and more, having a child with average grades is considered a serious problem by many parents and can even be viewed by some as embarrassing and shameful. A “C” student might as well be a high school dropout as far as many top-tier colleges and universities are concerned. Some high school counselors, who can be overloaded by the sheer number of students they manage, and private admissions consultants, concerned about their reputations and admission rates, are quick to dismiss average students as junior-college bound.

Just because a student has average grades in high school doesn’t mean he or she won’t succeed in college.

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My son was an average high school student, graduating with a GPA that was just shy of 3.0. There were a number of reasons for his less-than-stellar performance in high school, including a mild learning disability (ADHD) and a severe lack of motivation. His father and I did everything we could think of to ignite an interest in academics in his intelligent but disinterested mind. Among other things, we hired tutors, including the one PhD English teacher at his high school who had been so inspirational to our older daughter. As I surreptitiously listened each week, I was struck by how utterly bored my son was, despite the fascinating (if somewhat exasperated) way the teacher explained the text. For me, a voracious reader with an English degree, my son’s disdain for literature was both sad and a little terrifying. How would he ever make it in college without the skills to interpret complex writing?

And yet, when it came to sports, my son was a font of knowledge. His recall of baseball and football statistics was encyclopedic. He could dissect and evaluate every play in a football game the way mathematicians solve complex calculus equations. What good would all of this information do him, his father and I wondered. On the other hand, we felt the life lessons he learned playing football in high school – commitment, discipline, respect and teamwork – would be of great value to him, so we supported our offensive lineman and his team. We hoped that his zeal for learning about sports would someday translate to his academic pursuits as well.

The belief that attending a top 50 university is the only path to success is not only untrue, but impossible for the 95% of high school students who don’t have the grades and/or the financial ability to attend one of these elite institutions. There are thousands of excellent schools that will admit average students and offer them the growth experiences and education that are the reasons to attend a college or university in the first place. My son was fortunate to be accepted to one of those universities.

Parents of average students might want to consider doing things differently than we did and fight their understandable instinct to constantly push their students to perform better in school. Many teenagers don’t reach a level of maturity to find the impetus to work hard until after high school. The fighting and arguing about getting him to work harder, study more and do better was futile and frustrating, and caused unnecessary stress for both my son and for my husband and me.

In my son’s case, it wasn’t until he went to college and found something that captured his attention – in his case, American History – that he was able to earn the grades we always knew he could.

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My son graduated from college – in four years – in the spring of 2014. The key to his success was finding support and counseling throughout his college experience, along with simply growing up. His senior thesis was on the history of the Mexican baseball league and its impact on the sport in the United States. He received a B plus on his paper. He now has two jobs, one in management for a college football team and the other in public affairs for a large energy company. He succeeded despite being an average high school student – and without his parents breathing down his neck. He did it on his own, which for me is the most gratifying thing of all.

It’s unlikely a potential employer will ever ask him about his high school GPA. Why would they? There’s so much more to him than that.

(Note: This post was written with my son’s blessing and encouragement.)

Related post: About a Boy

Having The Sex Talk With a Teenage Boy

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I think most parents dread the day they have the sex talk with their teenagers.

I never got “the talk’ from my mom. I’m not sure if she just assumed I wasn’t having sex or if she was even aware that I had boyfriends. My first trip to the gyno was when I was already eight weeks pregnant. As if your first Pap smear and pelvic exam aren’t humiliating enough, add 20-years-old, never been, already knocked up to the mortification. I cried through the whole exam.

It would have been easy to blame my parents for my situation. My mother never talked to me about birth control and I, like 100% of teenagers, assumed it would never happen to me. I was a smart girl, I knew where babies came from, and yet I rolled the dice. Nine months later I had a baby by a man that I had known for less than three months. Having that baby turned out to be the best decision of my life and made me who I am today. But, it was a hard life for a long time.

Fast forward sixteen years. That baby is a tall, handsome, smart and very funny young man. Until recently, he had no time for silly, insecure teenage girls. But he’s become romantic about a girl whom he’s been very good friends with since the eighth grade. They’re romantic for each other and I’m happy for him. They’re a great pair: she’s brilliant and sweet and quirky, he’s warm and clever and romantic. I am in love with their budding romance.

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That is, until I walked into the family room and found them horizontal on the couch, their faces plastered together.

HOLD UP.

I started with diplomacy. I loudly clomped toward them from the next room over to give them time to get decent but, much to my surprise and annoyance, they did not separate. I snapped my fingers at them and barked “Inappropriate!” not knowing what else to say. They slowly sat up but the second I left the room, they were at it again. We’ve had The Talk with him but I just didn’t feel like we had really prepared him for this.

We are very open and accepting. We always want our son to know that he can speak honestly with us about anything, and we have always been very candid with him. He knows he won’t be judged if he tells us he’s gay or has a substance abuse problem. He knows he doesn’t have to go to college if that’s not for him, as long as he’s doing something he loves with his life and not mooching off of us. And he knows to wear protection if he has sex.

It was easy to have these conversations because we approach things in a humorous way. He’s had Sex Ed at school, and he knows in theory that he should bag his groceries but I knew these things too and it didn’t prepare me at all. My husband and I brainstormed over why people don’t use common sense and I think it goes beyond the obvious “it was in the heat of the moment.” It’s a lack of comfort and preparedness.

I’m in my thirties now, and it’s all too easy for me to glibly tell him to just wear a condom. That doesn’t prepare him for the time when he has to make that choice. We don’t verbally instruct soldiers on how to fight and then send them into battle without having ever fired their weapons, do we? No, when people are going to be in dangerous situations, we prepare them and drill them until we’re convinced they can handle the situation confidently and safely.

This is no different.

We sat him down and explained that we were about to have a painfully awkward talk about what had transpired the night before on the couch with his girlfriend. He was invited to not say anything stupid and that his best course of action was to simply shut the fuck up.

I first told him that their behavior, while pretty normal, was quite disrespectful considering I was watching TV twenty feet away. I diapered him, I cuddled him when he had his tonsils out, I kissed his ouchies and he still kisses me goodnight. I should never have to see him in the throes of passion.

Then we explained what was next for him. While he and his girlfriend had talked about boundaries and decided that just kissing was good for now, at some point, he’d find himself in a one thing led to another scenario. Responsible parents take their daughters to the gynecologist to get them on birth control. How do responsible parents prepare their sons? I told my son to go to the drugstore and buy some condoms and then spend some time learning how they work. If he needed help, dad was available. Finally, he needed to report back that he had completed the task.

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Of course he didn’t understand the point of the exercise, at first. I could see the terror in his eyes when I told him he needed to go buy condoms and his discomfort at my mere mention of masturbation. I explained “Girls go to the gynecologist, they strip naked, put their feet in the air, and a virtual stranger probes their lady-parts with metal tools and bristle brushes. When that’s over, they have to remember to take a pill every day or they get a shot every three months or they can have something IMPLANTED in their arm. The least you could do is spend four minutes in the privacy of your own bathroom figuring out how a condom works.” He acknowledged that his part was relatively easy in comparison.

I was pleasantly surprised when he told me, two days later, that he had, indeed, bought the prophylactics. I asked if he had tried them out which, believe me, was every bit as uncomfortable to ask as it was for him to hear. But this was the important part. For me, the follow through was critical and it didn’t matter how embarrassed either of us was. He simply nodded and I left it at that.

I don’t worry about the moment he’ll have sex for the first time anymore. As a mother who believes that pre-marital sex is not only inevitable but also okay, I did everything I could to prepare him for that moment.

Related post: Yes, I Bought Condoms For My Son