There’s nothing to convince you that you suck as a parent like having teenagers. And the thing is that my teenagers have been really good kids so far. No drug addiction, no time in juvie, no pregnancies (yet, at least), no runaways. They’re all good kids by every measure.
But I’m not going to lie: it’s hard to lose that absolute admiration they have for you when they’re little. It’s not as easy to make them happy as it was when you could read them a story or make costumes for their favorite stuffed animals.
It was particularly hard for me when it got to the point that I realized I couldn’t share about their lives anymore. When I realized that maybe I shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place.
When I realized that they saw my flaws as clearly as I did.
I’m glad I recorded the cute things my kids said and the interesting perspectives they shared on things when they were little, because now I have a permanent record of it. But the growth of other people’s kids always seems to pass more slowly, in the way that I often think my sister’s kids are much younger than they actually are. And now I find that some people who enjoyed my tales of my kids’ younger years want more of those cute stories and don’t realize that time has already ended. Am I still interesting if I’m not talking about the interesting things my kids do?
There are a lot fewer of those cute stories now, and I don’t have permission to share most of them. My kids have grown into independent people with minds of their own. And I guess it’s hard for me to understand sometimes that they always were independent people with minds of their own. That’s a mistake I regret. They still say interesting and insightful things all the time, possibly even more than they did when they were little. But now it has to stay just between us.
For that reason, it was a very intentional choice not to become a “mommy blogger” when my kids were little. I had a lot of people encouraging me to do so. It was one thing to share their cute stories with my friends on Facebook, something else entirely to put it out there where anyone could find it. It felt like too much pressure put on both me and them to make their lives the material for my work. And I always had enough doubt in what I was doing that I feared making them into subject matter could tragically backfire, in the way it often has for other kids who grew up in the public eye.
I went through a long phase of really doubting myself as a parent, especially after we moved down here. After all, it was all my idea. I believed it would be best for them, but talk about a lot of pressure. And at first, there were a lot of signs that it was not in fact better for them. My middle child got hit by a car just a couple months after moving here and broke several bones. My oldest, well, his story is his own to tell, but let’s just say that his adjustment didn’t go well and he held a lot of resentment against me.
But time heals most things, albeit slowly, especially with teenagers. The most heartbreaking thing was probably when my middle son, always the one closest to me, went through a phase of not wanting to talk to anyone, including me. He came out of it and now we regularly have good conversations. He comes out of his room to hug me and say a personal goodbye when I’m leaving the house, where once he would not have.
My oldest is clearly an adult at 20 years old, with a job and bills of his own. He takes pride in trying to contribute to the household and doesn’t keep score. Sometimes I still see flashes of his old anger at me and it pierces me. But I also see his deep concern for me and desire to help me, particularly when my MS is at its worst.
My youngest is the one who makes me feel like I’m finally getting things right. I talk with him the most openly about personal stuff in his life, some of which occasionally makes me cringe (but I answer it anyway.) Today I took him his uniform for JROTC and I said I wouldn’t embarrass him by asking for a hug in public, so I just reached out for a handshake…and then he pulled me in for a hug anyway.
Some of these positive changes just occurred with time. Some are because I also changed in ways that they needed. I’ve never wanted to be one of those people who believed I didn’t have to change anything because I could do no wrong.
The challenge now for me is not playing the comparison game. I have friends whose kids are getting into prestigious universities, getting scholarships, winning awards for all types of amazing accomplishments. My kids have always been brilliant, testing way above their age level, and that could have theoretically been them making the same achievements.
But I didn’t nurture it. I didn’t know how, both because of my struggles with depression and because I couldn’t overcome the same challenges myself. I regret that and wonder if I failed them.
Yet at the same time, I increasingly try to walk that line of telling them they are capable of doing anything (and I will support them in anything they do, even my youngest’s interest in ROTC, which may or may not ever result in military enlistment, even though I am historically pretty anti-military.) But I also tell them about other paths they can take, realistically what struggles they may face if they skip college, and that I will love them in whatever they choose.
I don’t want to be that parent who tells them that college is the only way to go. I tell them that their college experience can be more successful than mine was if they do things I could not, like take internships and are willing and able to move for jobs. But growing up is hard enough without feeling like your parents have decided your path for you–especially if it’s one you don’t particularly want to pursue.
I truly enjoy my kids for the people they are. I want them to feel validated and supported, while also trying to teach them some life skills that may help them. I want them to pursue independence but not feel pushed into it prematurely.
And for the first time, I’ve finally started to feel like I’m coming out on the other side of the worst of the teen years. I still can’t afford to give them all the material things they deserve. But I hope that in time, they’ll recognize the things I did well and forgive the things I didn’t.
Raising teenagers: it definitely gets harder, but if you’re lucky, then it starts to get easier again. I’m finally feeling like the latter might be true.