When I was a young mom of young children, I would sometimes confide to acquaintances that I was actually looking forward to the teenage years. They almost inevitably laughed at me. They said, “Oh, yeah, wait until he…” followed by some horror story of smart-alec, obnoxious, or even dangerous teen behavior.
I would smile and shrug and say, “Well, I still think I’m going to like having teenagers.”
I’m wrong about lots of things, but this thing: I was right about.
I love having a teenager so passionately sometimes I can’t even stand it. I love my strapping, doesn’t-know-his-own-strength, hands-bigger-than-he-knows-what-to-do-with young man.
I love watching him reveal how much of us there is in him. There is something deeply satisfying about watching him swallow novels whole and then sit down to write fan fiction. I love our daily battles of the wits where his snarky humor meets ours and somebody comes out bloody (figuratively speaking) but all of us come out laughing.
And yes, he’s a smart-alec. He rolls his eyes. He’s moody and impatient and hard to get along with sometimes. A few days ago, in the midst of a tiff, he handed me a parenting book and said, “Here, Mom. You need to read this,” and stomped out of the room. It’s like he thinks he’s smarter than me and if I would just do things right, he wouldn’t have to deal with such imbeciles for parents, and the world would be a better place.
The standard model of parenting doesn’t know what to do with this. We think we have to control our children, to mold them into what the world wants of them, in order for them to fit in, get along, learn to be “productive” (whatever that means). We think they’re supposed to do what we tell them without question and never argue with their “superiors,” because we know better than they do what they need.
I don’t buy that. I think our job as parents is to love our kids and to help them unwrap their gifts and figure out how best to use them to make the world a better place. I don’t need my kid to know I’m smarter, or better, or in control. I don’t need him to think I’ve got it all figured out (hint: I don’t). I’m okay learning this journey as we go, letting him guide me and show me what he needs.
Does that mean we don’t ever “crack down” on him, show him where he’s wrong, even “discipline” him? Not at all. He does, after all, have several decades of experience *less than we do* under his belt, and, like all of us, he makes mistakes.
It does mean that we never take his snarky comments personally, react to them emotionally (‘never’ might be too strong a word–let’s just say ‘usually’), or let his behavior change our opinion of him for the worse. It means that we understand deeply that this young person stomping around our house is a miracle we’re lucky to have the honor of sharing our lives with.
By the way, I read that parenting book and he was right: I needed it. It taught me to be a better parent to him, and I’m grateful.
P.S. Also: Free babysitting.