I’M LEARNING THAT HAVING A TEENAGER is, in many ways, like having a toddler. Both are capable of having wild mood swings. Both will seek ways to push their limits to the absolute maximum. Both will throw unspeakable temper tantrums. Both will yell NO!!!, daring you to impose your will.
There are some differences, though, and I’m not just thinking of how a teen is (probably) potty-trained, or the fact that he will eat you out of house and home, or the fact that he will sleep until noon on Saturdays.
For starters, my teen is now as tall as me. Twelve years ago, I could have thrown him into a headlock and pin him down to subdue him. Now, he’s big and strong. Also, he looks me straight in the eye, as if to challenge me, to dare me to assert my authority.
Then, there’s his ability to match wits with me. He can use words to make a coherent argument. He uses rhetoric and sarcasm to make his point. He tries to twist my words and throw them back on me. “Because I said so” just doesn’t work anymore.
These are the things I think they should tell you when you bring leave the hospital with your wee, warm, swaddled, mint-condition infant. They’ll tell you to keep track of how often your baby pees and poops, and what to do if your baby runs a fever. You’ll learn that there is nothing more sublime than when you recline, exhausted, with your sleeping baby draped over your chest. You will listen to his rapid respirations and his little gurgles and sighs and you will murmur sweet nothings into his ear, blissfully unaware that twelve years from now, he’ll glare at you with pure anger in his eyes, sarcastically thank you for completely RUINING his day (or his life), tell you he HATES you, then STOMP down the hallway and SLAM the door to his room, after which he will take out his anger on his younger brother.
Your teen will exhaust you, too, and you might think that this is similar to the exhaustion new parents experience, but it’s different. Theirs is more of a physical exhaustion, brought on by months and months of insufficient, interrupted sleep. Teen parent exhaustion is mental.
A wise person once summarized parenting like this: Little people, little problems. Big people, BIG problems.
My head understands that this is a natural part of growing up. I tested my mother in similar ways. I know he needs to assert his independence. But I want him to learn that there are consequences for his actions. I want him to show he knows what it means to respect authority. I want him to learn the art of compromise. I want him to develop a filter, to learn that you can’t always say exactly what you’re thinking at the moment you’re thinking it. I want to see sympathy and empathy and consideration for others. I want him to care.
I’m not done parenting yet.
Oh, I can see glimpses of the fine young man he’s becoming. He’s charming and witty, and oh my goodness, he’s really smart. He makes friends easily – he’s fun to be around. And he is handsome. This week, he wraps up his middle school years, and my heart will overflow with pride as my firstborn stands up to be recognized at his promotion ceremony. And I will make sure that he knows, whether or not he wants to acknowledge it, that I love him with all of my heart, in that special way that only a mother can. And I always will. No matter what.