I have two almost 15-year-olds. When they were little I remember hearing people say, “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.” I thought they were crazy. I imagined a time when I could run to the store without a carseat in each hand. When they could cut their own food and would actually eat it so I could eat my dinner.
I imagined sitcom-like exchanges amongst them and their friends in my spotless kitchen after school. In my head they would be perfectly self-sufficient young people, capable of making the right choice at the right time.
I could hardly wait. It seemed so easy.
I am ready to admit that I was wrong. It is not easy. Being a parent to a teenager makes you question everything you thought you knew about raising children. It makes you wonder where you went wrong when they were little and why on earth you decided to have them in the first place.
You will also spend lots of time wondering how a boy who was once so sweet and cute can smell so bad. Or how a girl who once loved only you can look at you with the kind of disdain you reserve only for skinny women with perfect shoes.
There are no clear guidelines on raising teenagers. They are individuals, struggling to figure out the world and their place in it. As a parent, your job is to be there when they want you to be there.
Be there, when THEY want you to be there.
My Aunt Jan, who raised six daughters, told me that you have to be around all the time for teenagers. That way, when they are ready to talk, they’ll talk to you, if not they’ll talk to someone else. I would amend that to say they’ll talk to their friends and all their friends are stupid.
Seriously, every one of them. My children have friends who I love. Friends who are welcome in my home every day, any time. But they’re teenagers and they’re stupid.
My teenagers are stupid, too.
When you have teenagers, the hardest but most important thing you will do is let go. When they want to go to the movies with their friends, at some point you have to let them. If they want to walk up to the soccer field by themselves, or worse, in a car with another teen at the wheel, you have to let them.
They might act like fools in the movie theater. They might use language that you find appalling. They might drive faster than necessary, without wearing a seat belt.
Then again, they might not.
All you can do is hope. Hope you’ve loved them enough and taught enough to be brave in the face of peer pressure. Smart. Kind.
You will not always be confident that you have succeeded. If you’re anything like me you will spend hours worrying, crying, reading parenting blogs and books. Hoping for some sign that you did it right.
Then one morning your son will go to church with you and you’ll realize he is wearing clothes you would have picked out. But you didn’t. You’ll overlook the fact that his pants are hanging a little bit low. He’ll ask if he can light a candle for your sick dog. You’ll notice that the adults at your church smile when they see him and your daughter. That they want to talk to them.
You’ll realize that your kids have great manners. That even though they give you the stink eye 23 hours a day, they do actually know how to act out in the real world.
Try not to cry. It will just embarrass them.