When your children are tiny, everybody tells you, "Oh honey, you lay down for a nap when they do. Don't wear yourself out."
"Let the housework go while you read them a story."
"Get your husband to take over when he gets home—they're his kids too." (Yeah, but what's
he coming home from--maybe a 10-hour day?)
"They're babies for such a short time."
Yes, such a short time . . . and then what do they become? Teenagers.
Nobody warns you about that. Oh, you hear the rumors, the complaints from other parents. But you don't believe it. You think you'll do better. You think those whiny parents are just weak and not in control of their monsters. You think if they'd done a better job when their kids were little that they wouldn't have such problem teenagers now. And you look at your little angels and know in your heart that they will never be unmanageable. They love you—they tell you that all the time! Your relationship with your children is so open, so special, that your kids will never turn on you.
Have you ever heard someone say that they like kittens, but the trouble is they grow up to be cats? Well, babies grow up to be teenagers. It all starts innocently enough. You normally sweet Mini-Me sighs when you ask her to let the dog out. You think she's just tired. But you hear the sigh again that night when it's time to do dishes and . . . is there something in her eyes, or is she rolling them at you? Or your compliant one test drives new words that have been forbidden in your house since forever. Suddenly your wardrobe is hideously outdated. "You look pretty, mommy" becomes "Ohmygosh you are not going out in public in that!" Your relationship with your spouse is disgusting and public hand-holding is repulsive. (So much for loving, affectionate parents making a child feel secure—it seemed to make mine nauseated.)
You are the butt of every joke, the reason for every sidelong, see-I-told-you glance between your child and his friends, a nerd beyond words. You're overprotective. You're not bright enough to help with homework. (I didn’t mind owning that one. I started telling them that
when they hit third grade. I did my homework. You do yours.) You are an embarrassment, and you don't know why.
When did it all change? Nothing you say is right, intelligent, funny, insightful or helpful in any way. When did you go from knowing everything to knowing nothing? You catch yourself in the mirror one day and realize you have deep, vertical grooves between your eyebrows. Where did
those come from? You look angry all the time. People start asking you if everything is ok. You thought you had a sense of humor . . . people used to like you. Now you look for what is hidden, listen for what is not said, suspect everything, trust no one. That little friend from down the street seems so nice—but maybe he's just sucking up, and as soon as they're out of the
house he’ll teach your kid how to tell a better lie or sniff Liquid Paper. Sleepover my butt, those girls are over there sneaking boys through the basement window! (See what I mean? I didn't
used to be paranoid!)
You're a giant nerd and dad is an even bigger one because he says stupid stuff like "Why is this light on if nobody's in here," or "Why is your window open when the furnace is on, we're not heating the great outdoors!" He also wants them to put gas in the car when they use it and stop the car and call home if the engine light comes on. Lame.
Now here's where the tide can turn. It's payback time. Yeah, it's petty, but pettiness may be all you have left in your miserable, raggedy, embarrassing life. Remember all the sleepless nights? The colic? The time your 10-year-old ate dozens of Hershey Kisses at a wedding reception and
threw up in his bed? (Chocolate vomit embedded in sheets is Very Special but not as special as cheese popcorn vomit in long hair. Don't ask.) How about when the nice man greeted your two-year-old at church and she said a phrase she must have picked up from some other family
and thank goodness he didn't understand what she said?
It’s time to celebrate a new kind of freedom. If your existence is an embarrassment no matter what you do, do whatever you want! If they don't want you singing along with Aretha Franklin in the car, sing and dance! Car dancing is super fun! (It also makes a good threat for a new driver: “You just ran a stop sign. Chain chain chaaaiiinn . . .”) They don't like you wearing sweatpants to the grocery store? Wear them with slippers! Not allowed to talk to their friends? Girls are never ready to go on time anyway--her last trip to the bathroom with an armload of hair products should give you ample time to bond with even the most monosyllabic teenage boy. Extra credit for throwing in the latest cool phrase you heard her say, whether you know what it means or not. And don't be afraid to ask questions. A kid who will not talk to his/her own parents will talk to you.
We’re not here to be popular or liked. We can learn that the easy way when they're young, or the hard way when they're older. But here's the good news: They outgrow it--the disgust, the critical sneer, the Attitude.
The question is, will you come through the other side with your relationship intact?