I’ve been the proud owner a teenager for nearly two years and in spite of a number of challenges, I think it’s safe to say it’s not as scary as I once thought it would be.
Back when my eldest son turned 13 I was a patchwork of emotions. I didn’t know whether to be nostalgic, proud or completely terrified. Inside I was wailing, “Where has the time gone?” It just didn’t seem that long since the night I was rushed into the operating theatre for an emergency C-section and my world changed forever. I’d never felt such strong emotions as at the moment my son entered the world.
Those early days and nights were long and it felt like we would be in that intense sleepless stage forever. I thought I had plenty of time to get the hang of this parenting lark, but as they say, the days are long but the years are short. Time went too fast, my son turned 13 and I felt I wasn’t ready.
I found myself overwhelmed with longing for the days when homework was simply reading an evening book together each night and I could relax a bit knowing that I had years ahead of me to get my parenting sorted, years to figure out ‘adulting’, years for my kids to nail all the skills necessary to be ‘successful’ at life. Back then I had a reassuring buffer zone of time. “It’s okay,” I kidded myself. “By the time they get to high school, I’ll have it all figured out. I’ll know what I’m doing. I’ll be sorted.”
But here I was facing high school already, still parenting by the seat of my pants, still making it up as I went along. My buffer zone of time was gone and I was now parenting ‘at the pointy end’ where I was about to discover whether I’d ‘done enough’ in those early years – or not.
Questions plagued me, like, “Will my child make it through adolescence in one piece? Will he go off the rails? Become a delinquent? Fall in with a bad crowd? Make dumb choices that have life-altering repercussions?” I knew how badly the teenage years could go wrong. I used to work with ‘at risk’ youth in a former life, and was all too familiar with how easily kids can fall into messing around with stuff that can screw up their futures. (And that was before the days of social media and all its additional pitfalls).
I longed for the ‘good old days’ of innocent toddlerhood and looked enviously at every mama pushing a pram down the street. “Make the most of it! It goes too fast!” I wanted to call out. Of course I’d conveniently forgotten that the reality of those early years was also pretty intense – and tiring. (So tiring)! Not to mention busy – never a moment to yourself. But you tend to forget the exhaustion and relentlessness of those early days when you look at old family photos – all the laughing faces and cuteness. Sweet chubby cheeks and sticky little hands holding yours so trustingly. Ah, the glories of selective memory.
My nostalgically-edited hindsight left me feeling like I’d lost something precious. Time had passed me by too fast and now all I had to look forward to was angst and hormones, grunting and attitudes, serious amounts of homework, exams and major life choices – along with the terrifying possibility I might discover that my seat-of-the-pants parenting efforts were insufficient to prepare my kids for the big scary world.
I wrote an article at the time titled I’m not ready for my kids to grow up. I was terrified that I hadn’t done enough during the early years to ensure that my kids would be okay once they hit puberty. I completely lacked confidence in my ability as a mum and doubted myself severely.
Watching my eldest son enter the world of high school – with the need for acceptance and belonging among his peers at the top of his priority list – was initially nerve-wracking. Kids at this age think they are invincible. Bulletproof. They can’t ‘see round corners’ and thinking ahead is not exactly their greatest strength. The desire to fit in and be liked is so strong it clouds good judgement in even the best-intentioned of them.
In Celia Lashlie’s excellent book on sons, He’ll Be OK, her recommendation is to “hook the boundaries up to the national grid” as our kids enter the teenage years. In other words, electrify that boundary fence, mama. Consequences and follow-through like never before.
As I stared down the barrel of (what felt like) impending doom I was reminded of an earlier blog post I’d written, titled If consistency is the key to good parenting I’m stuffed. In it I was lamenting my seat-of-the-pants approach and bemoaning my inability to consistently follow through on all the great theories I came across on how to be a great parent. A close friend of mine (who I have mad respect for as the mum of gorgeous teens) commented, “You are consistent at loving and wanting the best for your kids. I think that matters most!”
A few years on, and with more years of parenting experience under my belt and a deeper knowledge of both myself and my kids, I know that what my friend said in that comment really is what matters most. I may not be as consistent at other stuff as I’d like to be but I am consistent at loving them, and as they hit puberty that really is what matters.
I can look beneath the grunting and evasiveness and see that precious newborn who stole my heart. I can enlist the support of every resource available to me to ensure that my child knows where the boundaries are and that there will be consequences if they are crossed. (And then I follow through.) I can find ways to crack the exterior of ‘coolness’ to reveal the kid within who still longs to know that he is just as loved and precious, now that he’s taller than me, as he was when I could cradle him in my arms.
I have learned how to do all these things, and now that my daughter is also about to join the teenage ranks I find that I am no longer afraid. I’ve begun to discover that teenagers are not that scary after all, even when they’re your own and the buck stops with you. Every stage of parenting has its pain and rewards but we learn and grow as they do.
It was easy for me to slip into a wee bit of melancholy when I compared my rose-tinted memories of ‘the simple fun-filled days’ of yesteryear with the serious business of parenting teenagers. But there are so many great things about having teenagers, like how freaky-cool it is walking between your kids and feeling short. Like binge-watching TV series together, swapping book recommendations and having cuppas and a chat when the younger ones are in bed.
It’s encouraging hearing them talk about their plans for the future and exciting to imagine where they could end up. It’s gratifying seeing them learn from their mistakes and make good choices (eventually); it’s heartening to hear other parents comment on their manners and helpfulness. And every now and then, when they bring you in a cup of tea, or give you an unexpected hug, or just open up and talk you feel like your heart will burst. You start to believe you can do this after all – launch a bunch of amazing young adults on the world and watch them fly.
Attend a Toolbox parenting course
Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.