This week I became a parent. I have three children and three stepchildren, but it wasn’t actually until one of them became a typical teenager that I entered parenthood. Everything up to now was just nurturing. Nurturing is soothing their aches and sores, making them chicken soup when they are sick, buying them shampoo and toothpaste and deodorant and making sure they brush their hair before school, teaching them good manners, keeping them on schedule, chasing them to do their homework, not letting them fight too much and occasionally punishing them for crossing a line. But that’s not really parenting. Parenting starts when you are so angry at your child that you want to tell them to go to hell. Or when you threaten to send your child to military school because you can’t imagine that any punishment you could give them at home could ever be strong enough. Or when you have to leave the room after your child has disrespected you – to prevent yourself from hitting him. Parenting is when you realize that you can’t actually send them away, throw them out the window, slap them, or tell them to go to hell. Parenting is when, after all of those emotions subside, you realize that you simply have to deal with them.
Being a teenager is not easy. For your parents, life is very clear – and everything depends on something else. How can that be that there are no clear answers and that everything has a context? For a teenager, it’s all very simple… black and white. And why is that you have to learn a lesson from everything you do? There is a certain moral code that parents seem to live by that clearly doesn’t match your own teenage code. And when your parents tell you things like “family first” you think to yourself “I don’t even like my family, so how could I possibly put them first?” Your parents try to act all sympathetic, saying things like “I know this is hard for you” but they don’t know squat. You think your parents must have been born adults because there is no way they could ever have been teenagers. They are clueless.
As a parent, what your teenager is going through is vaguely familiar. You remember the pains, the drama, the absolute horror when being grounded for something meant that you could not go to so-and-so’s party. Everyone else was going, and it simply wasn’t fair that you couldn’t go. Nevermind the fact that you are grounded because the last party you came home from a little late, and a little drunk. Nevermind the fact that the party happens to be on Monday night and you have school tomorrow. It’s just not fair. I can remember storming out of the room screaming “you guys are so MEAN!” when I was about 16. But as parent, I’m continually surprised by adolescent defiance, deceit, the need to be with friends, the way academics will so easily take a backseat to “chilling”. I’m sure I must have gone through that, but I can’t remember it so clearly. When I see our teenager going through some of the same things, I begin, slowly, to understand some of what my parents went through. Everyone has a different style, a different approach with their kids, and some are more effective than others. I’m not so grown up yet (even at 38) that I don’t still hold my parents responsible for some of my aches and pains, even in adulthood – who is, really? But I’m figuring out that my parents did the best they could with what they had, right? And that’s all we can do right now.
I have to have faith in the thought that this will pass. Kids don’t stay teenagers forever. And while right now I’m not sure that anything I say or do gets through to my 17 year old, I have to have faith that, despite the emotional suit of armor that he wears, and the 18-inch thick castle walls he hides himself behind, something we say, somewhere along the way, will get through.