What No One Tells You About Having a Teenager

by Michele Trice
Originally Published: 

I know he’s been with me for 16 years, but how did he become a teenager? A smoldering, moody, teenage boy. I’m not old. How did he become so old? And who said he could bring such problems with him when he came into the house all teenager-like?

Friends and I regularly discuss that no one told us when these teenagers were babies that we would be asking the questions or repeating the mantras we do now. Not a single person warned us.

When I looked at this defiant teenager boy as a baby, I thought, “Oh, he’s so sweet.” “He smells so good.” When I was an overwhelmed new mother, I was worried about basics like feeding him and keeping him alive on a moment-to-moment basis. Those were legitimate fears, to be sure, but looking back, they seem so innocent and irrational. The odds of me accidentally killing him were so small. There are days now when I miss those easy fears.

I never dreamed as I rocked that tiny body to sleep that one day I would mutter the same phrase every morning (during a particularly difficult year) as I went in to wake him for school: “Please let him be alive.”

The labor and delivery nurses don’t mention that things will be exponentially harder in high school for the mother of the kid who hurts than for the kid himself. You don’t realize that you’ll internalize his pain and then add your own guilt and worry on top of that.

And on the sheet the pediatrician gives you at the one-year check-up, it doesn’t mention that at some point, you’ll hope your teenager doesn’t try “the hard drugs.” Or that you’ll have entire conversations about this with said teenager. You’ll debate which drugs fall into the realm of “hard drugs.” You’ll be absolutely certain you’re in a dream sequence on your favorite ’80s sitcom and that soon, you’ll wake up and it will all be really funny. But it won’t. Until, over multiple glasses of sangria with your friends, you discover these conversations are being had in living rooms with teenagers all over.

A friend confessed that her child had done something recently to worry her. “That’s serial killer behavior.”

Now, probably it wasn’t, but haven’t we all thought at one time or another when looking at our teenagers, “Please don’t become a serial killer?” Or the equally distressing thought that sometimes comes after a really horrid argument with a teen: “Goodness, I hope that kid doesn’t kill me in my sleep.”

And then, I often think of how I was the teenager in that scenario. I yelled and said awful things to my own parents but never once thought of killing them or anyone else. That thought helps me sleep some nights.

When they were babies, no one told me—told any of us—we would think these things. The things I ask my child and the universe are just as crazy as the fact that I now dye my eyebrows so the greys don’t show.

Please don’t kill yourself.

Please don’t become a serial killer.

Don’t do drugs. OK, please don’t do the “bad” drugs.

Please don’t sell drugs.

Please don’t let my baby go to jail. This kid can’t manage a 20-minute Wi-fi outage. Jail is not the place for my baby.

I suppose, though, if someone had told me and my friends all those years ago when we were considering children that we’d have to relive our own teenage years but that they’d be worse, no one would ever have children.

All I can say now is, Thanks for not doing cocaine.

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