Today we introduce a new column, “MillenniHell: Raising Teens in Today’s World“, a twice-monthly post on the challenges of parenting teenagers. If you have topics you would like addressed, please let us know at [email protected] – The Eds.
My neighbor just had a baby boy. He is tiny and precious, and it seems like he does nothing but flutter his little eyelids and look picture perfect. But I know better. I vividly remember the foggy early days of new motherhood, when my life suddenly narrowed to the constant, repetitive cycle of feeding, changing, burping, washing, and rocking.
Ah, there’s a reason babies are so cute. Feeling that soft baby skin, smelling that sweet breath, and nuzzling their fuzzy heads against my cheek helped me keep a balanced perspective. Even so, there were times when being in charge of those little beings did get overwhelming.
I remember some well-meaning, veteran mothers commenting: Oh, it gets so much easier when they’re older. So, my kids are now older. I have a teenager and an almost-teenager, respectively. And I’ve got news for those ‘veteran’ moms: It’s not necessarily any easier. It’s just a different kind of tough.
Sure, my kids are bigger. In theory, they’re more capable. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to do more. Take, for example, this summer. Most mornings, I would slink downstairs to my basement office for a few hours. When I’d wander back upstairs and make myself present—regardless of what time it was—it always appeared as if time had stood still.
No one was dressed. They hadn’t eaten any breakfast; guess who was expected to make it? On the rare occasions they had scooped themselves some cereal, the bowls hadn’t moved from the counter to the kitchen sink; nor had the dog’s bowl been filled. The spine of my son’s summer reading books? Un-cracked. Beds? Unmade.
I tried different approaches. The drill sergeant act sometimes brought swift, albeit temporary, action. Rarely did it carry over to the following day. Other times I just got nasty feedback, especially from the teenager. Asking politely, as if I were speaking to people with some degree of maturity, usually went unheard. Whichever tactic I used, I was rarely satisfied with the results.
When my children were babies, I had no problem doing everything for them; that was my job. But now, with my daughter towering above me and my son not far behind, it doesn’t seem quite right. Yet here I am, acting as short-order cook, chief dishwasher, chauffeur, bouncer (breaking up their fights), and probably a couple other menial tasks I’m leaving out.
I scratch my head and wonder: Why aren’t they intrinsically motivated? Has my parenting style somehow inhibited their desire to become independent? Did I do too much for them when they were little? After all, my ultimate job as a mother is to mold them into independent adults, right?
As soon as I lecture myself on the independence theory, I second-guess it, asking myself: Why rush things? They’re still kids. And, immaturity aside, I do enjoy the kids they are right now—when they let me.
I got lucky the other day. Sitting on a bench at the Maryland State Fair between my two adolescent children, sweating in the mid-day heat as we feasted on cheese-covered French fries and smoked turkey legs, I reveled in the moment. I’d had to drag my reluctant 13-year-old to the fair. Going anywhere with her mom and her younger brother is rarely on the top of her to-do list. But she must have been bored enough, and she eventually relented.
Once there, my daughter reacted the way she always has at the fair, ever since I wheeled her around the cow palace in her stroller. Her blasé attitude softened at the sight of baby chicks pecking their way into the world, and at newborn pigs suckling from their mothers. As we waited for the rides to open, she even agreed to play a couple silly games with her brother, like tossing balls through holes to win stuffed animals—an activity she would normally eschew with a snarl and a roll of her eyes. I left the fair half-wishing that I could freeze this moment, or even back track a few years.
This tug-of-war plays out on a daily basis, as I will my adolescent children both to grow up and to stay young. It confuses and confounds me—and probably them too. In this column, I will expound on my personal challenges raising teenagers because there is, I assume, no turning back. As I do, I hope to hear from you, readers, about your own experiences with the daunting task. I welcome any advice. Just don’t tell me it gets easier. I won’t believe it.
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