Fear not the teens! For they will watch Fight Club with you!
"There’s something of a relief in the idea that whichever way we are sure we’re going to mess up our kids, we’ve probably already done it by now."
Parents have all joked, in one way or another, about our six-year-olds learning the lyrics to Bowie or Blondie or Green Day and saying MY JOB HERE IS DONE! But it’s not done. Not by a lot.
(Also be warned, they may make a complete 180 from Blondie and start digging K-pop or 8-bit video game music before they do or don’t get back to an appreciation of the Before-Autotune Times, so don’t get cocky so fast there, parents.)
Let me tell you: the teen years are next-level. New fears, more complex issues, very intense feelings that you wish you could rip from them and lay on yourself ten-fold, if you could.
But you know that.
What you don’t hear enough is that those years can also be pretty extraordinary. Maybe even better than the ones that came before.
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Here I confess I was not the biggest fan of the toddler years. It felt like stumbling my way half-awake through a soupy, murky haze of mental and physical exhaustion that never quite lifted. I struggled with the incessant need for my attention, coupled with the fear that every day —at least according to the Online Momdom of the mid to late aughts — I was doing something (like say, not breastfeeding for 16 years) that was going to cause irreparable harm to the humans in my charge.
While I loved my kids madly, and I loved being a parent, I don’t think I loved myself as a parent.
Cut to today — we’ll just go right ahead and skip over a breakup, a supportive new partner, a bigger new blended family, the middle school years, massive changes in the world, and a global pandemic — and behold! It seems that feeling of “I need to suck less at this” has more or less passed.
I love having teens.
Of course I owe much of this to the fact that I have kids I actually like. I know I’m incredibly fortunate in this way. But I also owe a good deal to Dr. Ken Ginsburg, who heads up the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In 2019, I spoke to him on my podcast about how to treasure the teen years instead of fearing them and it was absolutely mind-shifting in every way.
It’s worth a listen. It may make you treasure the teen years more too, even through all the struggles. (And there will be struggles.)
Today, I’m paying that forward.
As someone who is still amazed to find herself with a 17 and 15 year old (along with 13- and almost-19-year-old stepkids!) I’m here to tell those of you with younger kids who are nervous about the future: you’ve got this.
Once more in caps, with periods between words circa 2008: YOU’VE. GOT. THIS.
Now by “got this,” that doesn’t mean perfection. It doesn’t even mean easy. It means, simply, you’ve got this.
Oh for sure there’s a litany of things I wish I had done better — could still do better. Sometimes a lot better. But there’s something of a relief in the idea that whichever way we are sure we’re going to mess up our kids, we’ve probably already done it by now.
Think of the teen years as the time in parenting that we first get to step back and see that maybe we’ve done a few things right.
This is the time we get to see whether we’ve raised our kids to have the values we hoped for, to make good choices when we’re not around, to understand that if one subway car is empty there’s definitely reason and to pick another one.
When I catch my kids being creative or kind, standing up for their friends, calling out injustice, correcting me about something (and being right), holding their own in a dinner table debate, sharing some new knowledge they’re excited about, or just expressing their feelings, there’s massive joy in that. Maybe in part because I actually have the breathing room to stand back and appreciate the moment. To appreciate them and the adults they’re growing into.
It’s more than nice, it’s rewarding.
And selfishly, God I like being able to watch movies with them that aren’t even one bit recommended by Common Sense Media. It’s a damn delight!
But there’s one thing I admit I was not prepared for at all.
It’s called Senior Year.
Senior Year is its very own chapter in parenting, but tends to get lumped in with the chapter called High School. It’s a short time period relative to the whole of raising humans, but the changes — not just in your kid, but in you — will be immense.
Nothing makes you feel the gut-punching truth of “the days are long but the years are short” quite like the college application process, in which you watch your kid (often in a series of 200-600 word essays) try to identify who they are, how they think, how they’ve grown, how they see the world, and then imagine how this informs the person they think they might want to be.
That’s… a lot.
It’s a chapter that hastens the parental transition from fear or trepidation to an intense longing. Or maybe a sort of a pre-longing, if that’s a thing.
I catch myself thinking about her — In six weeks or so, you’ll know where you’re going to be going. In four months, you may be FaceTiming with your future roommate and figuring out who brings the coffee maker. In eight months you’ll be texting me for advice from a dorm. In one year exactly, you won’t be here in the living room next to me, drawing on Procreate or laughing through video game jump scares while I write on my laptop.
The fact that I am able to easily count in my head the weeks we have left before she heads out, the number of Friday nights left to work our way through the David Fincher and Christopher Nolan catalog, the number of Sunday mornings left to toss on yesterday’s jeans and grab waffles at the diner… well. Wow.
If every chapter in parenting prepares us for the one that comes next, then hopefully, I’ve got this.
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One more thing…
I’ve always been grateful to those friends and writers and writer-friends who are a chapter ahead of me, showing me that It Will Be Okay the same way I am trying to show that to those of you who are just a chapter behind me.
Top among them is. And so what a surprise and honor that she cited me in her thoughtful list of favorite follows for parents of adults who don't only write about parenting. I love every single one of those women too.
You do need to be a paid subscriber, but spending a few bucks a month for Asha’s wisdom is worth every penny. Plus, you get to see that list!
It’s kind of incredible to think that a lot of us who have been supporting each other online and off since the our kids were tiny are still here for each other. Let’s not lose that. We have a lot of chapters to come, friends.