My 8-year-old daughter recently asked me to carry her up the stairs to bed. Her face was snug between my shoulder and jaw, legs wrapped around my waist. I struggled to get her up the stairs because I’m not what I once was, and she weighs a lot more than she ever has. But I got it done.
“You know,” I said while I carried her. “Someday you won’t like me.”
I think about this a lot, actually. Part of the problem is, I didn’t like my parents as a teen. Of course, I had a lot of good reasons to hate my parents. My father was in jail most of my high school years. He was an early victim of the opioid epidemic and died just after my high school graduation. My mother struggled too, in her own ways, and at 14, I got so frustrated that I packed my things and left. I bounced around for a bit, and eventually ended up with my grandmother.
At the time, I felt old enough to be on my own. But now, when I look at my young children, I realize that there’s no way they are old enough to do what I did. And sure, their situation is so much better than the one I grew up in, but I still worry that my children will one day be as dissatisfied with me as I was with my own parents, and the thought of that eats me up.
And the reality is, my children are not all that far away from the teen years. My oldest is 11. He’s a pre-teen. Norah isn’t all that far behind, at 8. There will be a time when my children won’t like me as much as they do now. I once read an article in which a psychologist talked about how your teenage children disliking (or even hating) their parents is a natural part of leaving the nest.
As a father, I have to cramp my kids’ style at some point, right? I have to enforce rules to keep them safe. I have to make sure they’re doing well in school, keeping good friends, and learning a strong work ethic. Even if they don’t like it. It’s my job.
I can’t help but think of that 30-something that was just sued by his parents to get out of their house. I don’t want that, either. I don’t want my children to never get out, go to college, get married, and live their own lives. I mean, honestly, the last thing any parent wants is to see their grown child in their basement playing games and never really living. But at the same time, I’m dreading those years where my teenage kids see me as some domineering hypocritical jerk full of rules and no fashion sense.
There has to be a middle ground, right?
I actually posted about this same topic, only a different situation, on Facebook awhile back. Naturally I ended up with a slew of comments, many of them discussing a range of experiences raising teenagers. Some commenters mentioned that they never hated their parents, and they moved out in their late teens, went to college, and everything worked out as they’d hoped. Others were like me, and had a difficult home life and hated their parents.
But the most interesting comments were from older parents with adult children who talked about how much their children talked back, said “I hate you,” tried to run away, rolled their eyes a million times, and asked for more space when what they needed was guidance. One person said this, “My son hated me, and it hurt, but you just keep loving them, and you get [through] it! He and I have a good adult relationship now!”
All of it sounded like a mixed bag, and all of it makes me nervous every time I look into my young children’s eyes. But the fact is, I’m not there yet. I haven’t lived it, and I have a feeling that all three of my children will be very different. But what I do know, right now, is that when I put Norah in her bed, she looked up at me and said, “I might not like you all the time, but I’ll always need you.”
She drew out “need” and ended with a scoff, as though she were explaining that bears live in the woods, duh. She looked me in the eyes, her lips in a twisted half grin. I smiled down at her, and laughed. “Thanks, kiddo,” I said. “That really helped. It feels good to be needed.”
It’s funny how kids can help put even the most complicated of fears to rest.
I gave her a kiss on the forehead, and as I pulled away, she wrapped her arms around my neck, and pulled me in for a second hug.