Little kids, little problems… big kids, big problems. The sage parents of teenagers told us this. While we wondered if our little ones would ever wipe their own butts or fall asleep without 10 stories, 3 drinks of water, and the theme song to Pepa Pig, they had bigger fish in the fry pan. Those parents had sympathy for us, sure. But there was a wistful nostalgia for these sorts of complaints. I wrote plenty about the sweet spot of parenting when I was in it. And though I love these budding bursting embarrassing distracted delusional occasionally noble and often lying humans, they’re exhausting.
We’re taking the radical honesty approach to parenting. My own parents put forth hard rules and likely knew we were lying to them. How often does the movie reel “break?” I wonder why they let us keep throwing good money at a theater that couldn’t get us home before curfew. But while our own teens dip toes in the deep end of teenage shenanigans, we prefer they tell us what is happening. But they won’t. Not entirely. Who does?
The smaller sins are merely annoying. Anyone who has let more than a handful of high schoolers into the basement knows the tell tale stench of vaping. Their burgeoning nicotine addiction means that any room they leave smells like grape bubble gum, stale cupcakes, or sickly sweet mint (that they swear is from chewing gum).
“Ugh, at least we looked COOL smoking actual cigarettes,” I tell them. I’ll call them out for spewing toxic vapor into our shared spaces, make them turn on the air filters, and remind them that they’re not fooling anybody. They’ll give me the usual deflections and excuses like I wasn’t at least 43% naughtier at their ages. I recall how my sister and I got away with murder, but our younger brother (likely smarter than the two of us together) was wildly incompetent at subterfuge and got caught all of the time. Odds are (hopes are?) my own teens are taking after Uncle Patrick.
“Did you ever sneak out of the house?” Brodie asked. You bet. Back in the ‘80s, few parents in the ‘burbs set up elaborate house alarms with doors and windows that beep beep beep. I met up with my girlfriends to share a furtive Marlboro Light, or made romantic plans to rendezvous with my boyfriend under a moonlit sky. Those were magical moments of borrowed time in the peak of youth. Looking back with the lens of a teenage parent, I see a too young girl risking lung and Lyme disease and sexual assault. How lucky that cigarettes are gross and took a substantial commitment to yield real addiction, and that my boyfriend was probably more scared than I was to make any sort of mileage on the old baseball metaphor.
Keeping me up at night are the larger mistakes with huge, life altering consequences. We’re excitedly reluctant to let our kids drive. Are we really giving large machine operating privileges to half formed people that still spill and leave doors unlocked and socks everywhere? Though we (okay, mostly I am) constantly harping about consent and the role of boys to protect all girls everywhere, in the moment does a teenage libido override all sense (and their mother’s voice)? Is the sharing of salacious gossip (or videos!) too tempting? Will they begin to, or ever, weigh risks and outcomes before actions? Am I expecting far, far too much from their mushy frontal lobes? SHOULD WE START HOMESCHOOLING. Raise your hand if you considered locking up your teens until they turn 21.
Recently, a pair of wise physicians of kids on the “other side” of parenting spoke with candor of the random drug tests and mandatory meetings with the Discipline Committee invoked by the actions of their then high schoolers. (God bless the parents who share these stories.) Another mom described her delightful, accomplished adult daughter like this: “She was unlikeable and awful from age 14 until last year.” I’m full of dread and anxiety about what comes next. Or maybe that’s just the pseudoephedrine coupled with the pot of coffee I swallowed while in full Mom Mode dropping wisdom on my teen that is likely landing on deaf ears and against a please-let-this-be-over closed door. If my boys are going to make mistakes (and they will), it will not be because I didn’t lay down the knowledge. Aside from locking them up and homeschooling, it’s all I’ve got.
Brodie has never been more excited to exit the house and go to tennis practice. I don’t blame him. Mom advice is invasive, embarrassing, obvious, unhelpful, trite, and irritating. Once a carefree Marlboro Light puffing teen swapping spit with boys on golf courses, I became the happy go lucky mom who enjoyed her sons’ adorable idiosyncrasies as they earned As and navigated nothing worse than the inevitable heartbreak of team sports and fickle friendships. Now all I can think about is Father Mike Dangelo’s motto for caring for these almost adults: “No life lost or created on my watch.”
In the end, I’ll need to trust my kids. They’re good kids, and if we paved the path and put up clear signage, certainly they’ll go in the right direction? (I can actually hear the snort laughs of seasoned parents just writing that.) As we navigate this next phase of parenting– the teen years– we’re also grappling with how tremendously stupid we were at that very age, how incredibly uncool our harpy warnings are to unsuccessfully thwart inevitable mistakes, how old this makes us feel in a way that crows feet and creaking joints cannot. As my kids stumble into adulthood, I admit that I thought this would be easier. Blaming an Internet-obsessed world for the shortcomings of our children feels like a cop out, and tolerating transgressions and exercising forgiveness are action verbs harder than any spin class. When once I wanted to fast forward to years when they wouldn’t need post poo help and could sleep until noon, now I’m wishing away the years until they can (legally) share a glass of Prosecco with me and confess all of the (minor) sins we never caught. Until then… no life lost or created on our watch… we pray.