By Sandra Ostapowich
Now and then, mothers of older teens and young adults at church will pull me aside (apparently recognizing the clenched jaw and dark circles under my eyes, which reveal that my son has been stomping all over my short fuse of tightly-wound last nerves) and quietly tell me, “I remember that age. This, too, will pass.”
Really? Are you sure?
I’ve survived the newborn phase and the terrible toddler years, and even have managed to get through the early school-age grades. But now, just when I thought I had this mommying thing down, I’ve been truly humbled. Do you want to know who can cut to your very soul and make a you feel like a truly horrible mother? No, not even being on the wrong side of the most recent mommy war battle can cause this much despair or frustration.
It’s when your own sweet-smelling, darling, baby-faced, still-dripping-from-the-baptismal-font little angel has suddenly been replaced one morning by a weirdly hairy, pimply-faced, BO-radiating, awkwardly limbed, hormonally-percolating, oddly familiar stranger who actually says (well, yells) the words: “You are a horrible mom! If I end up homeless and living on the street it’ll be all your fault!”
Moms of babies and small children have both virtual and real-life communities providing support galore for their trials of diaper rash caring, breast feeding/weaning, sleep-training, baby wearing, play date arranging, lack of sleep strategizing, trying to accomplish things (something…anything) during the day, and adult conversation.
Moms of adolescents and teenagers? Not so much. And our own fears crop in so much when kids reach this age. We believe we’re the only ones who are going through this. But we’re not.
I would give my right leg (or at least would have to think hard about it) to turn back time and only have to deal with the struggles of potty training and grocery store tantrums again. That’s not to minimize those trials — they are definitely real and frustrating when you’re in the thick of them. With small children, you can physically pick them up and remove them from the situation, or put them in time out when they misbehave. “Because I’m the mom and I said so,” is actually something you can say, probably without being challenged to explain the logic of your decision.
Oh, for the days when defiance meant my child throwing a bit of food off the highchair tray and me sing-song saying, “No, darling. We don’t play with our food.” 48 times a day. Or meal. (Your mileage my vary.) For that matter, remember, highchairs? Where you could physically bind Junior in one place until his food was fully consumed. Or at least distributed evenly through his hair.
I’m pretty sure no one knows how to push your buttons and stomp all over the tattered remains of your patience than someone you have raised — who has learned all your own bad habits, and sounds and thinks just like you! Disagreements quickly escalate into yelling. And slamming of doors. And bad words. And really mean wishes expressed. And pulling out of hair. And threatening to run away. And day drinking on the back patio. Oh wait…that one’s just me.
But, seriously. Think back to your own early teenage years. Does anyone remember anything positive about them? Who has fond memories of middle school/junior high? Many of us can clearly remember episodes of trying to navigate the always-changing social scene, rejections (both of unrequited young love and from trusted “best friends”), and just never ever feeling like you fit in. And those memories, as well as their accompanying feelings, have stayed with us since the day they occurred. Our own experiences remind us that our kids are at the age when a lot of people start down difficult roads that affect their personalities and self-confidence well into adulthood.
There’s a lot at stake for kids this age!
We know our teenagers are still just children in so many ways, yet they’re starting to reason like adults. So sometimes they can sound really quite reasonable. Other times, the raging hormones take over and everything is the best, worst, and most important thing that could possibly ever happen in their entire lives. All at once. Every single request has the potential to become an argument, or at least a negotiation. At this point, I’m convinced that my son has a very promising future as a lawyer. He really has a way with words and pointing out flaws in logic. Fortunately, I’m way better at it than he is. But you can see how this would devolve into arguments about arguments…and over an hour later I realize nothing I wanted to get done has gotten done. Sneaky kid. Well played.
I remember when my son used to ask me, all full of wonder after I explained one of the mysteries of life to him (like why is the asphalt street hotter than the cement sidewalk to walk on with bare feet), “How do you know so much about that, Mom?” Now, I’m quickly on my way to becoming the dumbest and most untrustworthy person in the world. Everyone else knows more than I possibly could about any given subject. I get it. Peer opinions have so much more influence at this age. I pray every night for his peers and their parents as well, that they may be good influences on my son…and he on them.
And the influences kids face today. Lord, have mercy! It’s a completely different (and terrifying) world from when I was that age. As much as we’d like to cover them in bubble wrap and keep them safe and sheltered at home forever, they’re inevitably going to encounter things that we, as parents, never imagined possible. And it’s going to happen earlier, in ways, and at times we’re not prepared for. So when it does and you’re not ready, go easy on yourself. You’re doing the best you can.
For the time being, I am working on self-care. And by “self-care,” I mean not engaging in the public murder (or flagellation) of my child. I look at him and see the fading vestiges of the chubby cheeks and pursed lips that he has had since the day he was born…and I love him so much my very heart could explode. I want, with every mama-bear cell in my body, to protect him from the trials and tribulations of this age.
I try to remain positive in light of his “realism” (because he, in his many years of life experience, knows so much more about the real world than I), and remind him of who he is in Christ at every opportunity. Because of his baptism, all of these current struggles are going to work out for his good. Mine too.
I have and will fail, and I’m sure I’ll hear from him again how I’m a disappointment as a mother. My son will continue to frustrate me and rebel against every limitation I put on him. I will say and do things I regret. I will hurt him, and I will mess up the rest of his life.
But I’m doing the best I can with what I have at the time, and I am forgiven when I screw up. So’s he. There’s no use in comparing my life and my teenager to someone else’s. God gave me this child. I love him and the young man he is becoming. The Lord made me a mother — this child’s mother — and I love being a mother. The Lord has claimed us both as His own children. Nothing can possibly undo that. He will get us both through the teenage years.
So help me, God!