I had finally hit my stride as a parent. When I heard friends with younger children talk about how worried they were about messing things up or getting things wrong, I realized just how far I’d come since those early days of constant self doubt. Although I had no illusions about getting it all right, I was finally confident enough to say I was a good mother. And then my oldest became a teenager.
Pride cometh before a fall, and confidence cometh before a teenager.
I’m only officially a few months into this new stage - although the teen attitude started several months before the 13th birthday - and I’m already completely exhausted from the experience. One of the worst parts, and perhaps the most unexpected struggle, is how alone I feel in it.
When my kids were born, it seemed everyone around me was excited to share their own stories about motherhood. Everyone had a tip, a suggestion, a hug to offer when I looked like I’d been up all night. Even though I navigated those early years without blogs or parenting forums, I still felt very much like a member of a community, a sisterhood of women who were or had been in the same trenches.
As my kids grew through the milestones - walking, potty training, biting, first day of kindergarten - the tribe of support grew. I met parents outside preschool and, eventually, moms online who were eager to talk about the good and the bad aspects of raising little people. There was no shortage of anecdotes to be found about being woken at predawn hours with requests for breakfast or embarrassed in public by a tantrum. And the advice, when needed, was easy to come by: how much to pay for a lost tooth, where to find non-princess halloween costumes, what to send for snacks in a nut-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, red-dye-free classroom.
None of the answers are easy in the teen years, and I’m not even sure where to ask them. An occasional vent on Twitter seems to garner more sanctimony than advice. I thought breastfeeding was a controversial topic, but the superiority complexes really come out when disciplining teenagers is mentioned. While parents of young children discuss the merits of attachment or free-range parenting, the line on teen parenting is clear: demand respect, raise responsible adults, show no weakness, stop your sniveling. The details on exactly how to do that are less clear.
I get the sense that there’s a lot of shame surrounding parenting teens. When I say that it’s hard to have my child suddenly stop liking me, all the other mothers look around the room and pretend not to have heard me. “Oh, hmm, I don’t know what you mean,” they murmur, and I think maybe I’m crazy, despite what I’ve heard through the pop culture grapevine about all teens hating their parents. There’s no camaraderie around that in real life though, not like there was about losing sleep to midnight feedings.
Maybe it’s harder to admit that things aren’t going perfectly because my counterparts and I realize we’re so close to the finish line now. Discipline problems with a toddler are amusing, but maybe a teen who talks back or lets their grades slip suggests an impending adult who can’t hold a job. And yet it’s for this very reason that I’m so desperate to find someone to commiserate with: now more than ever I need to hear that it’s going to be OK, that my kid will like me again and that he might eventually give to charity even though he does nothing without an eye roll now.
Maybe the teen years leave scars or something. Parents who have survived it aren’t eager to revisit them in the name of helping out the next generation, perhaps because it sucked so bad the first time around. Maybe they’re less confident of how they handled the same problems that plague me now.
I’m not sure exactly the reason, but I know this: it’s not just me.
That, more than anything, is what I’ve learned from the Internet in the last decade. No matter how pulled together and normal everyone else looks, most of us are struggling with the same kind of crap behind closed doors. Our most embarrassing dysfunctions are far more normal than we ever realize, especially when it comes to our relationships. Surely the same holds true when it comes to parenting teens.
Surely it just feels like I’m alone.