One day, you bring home a little bundle of sweetness with that new baby smell.
And then, in the blink of an eye that baby is thirteen and doesn’t smell so sweet. I often say that, if they started out as teenagers, I wouldn’t have six kids (love you, darlings). Before you have a baby, people tell you about the perils of infancy, and that’s what you focus your attention on for all nine months. No one really warns you that the little nugget kicking you in the kidney is going to, one day, throw her hand up in the air, roll her eyes, and say “Whatever!” So, I’m here with some helpful tips and bits of knowledge. They may not give you a better outcome, but at least you’ll know what’s coming.
1. Realize that you don’t know anything.
I know that you might think you do. Maybe you went to college and got a degree or three. Maybe you’ve read a lot. Perhaps you’ve been to the school of hard knocks and around the block a few times. But, your 13-year-old is going to assure you, repeatedly, that you are a moron. And look at you, trying to prove to a 13-year-old that you know something. Maybe he has a point.
2. Understand that personal hygiene is either totally overrated or requires many hours a day.
That might sound contradictory, but it isn’t, apparently. The same teen that will spend an hour straightening her hair will scoff at brushing her teeth. If you complain about the smell, you may well be treated to a soliloquy on how you have been misled by the establishment and the appearance industry.
3. Nap when your baby naps.
That’s right. I’m suggesting that you sleep as much as you can when your child is an infant, through preschool and elementary school, and right up to the teen years. Because, at some point you are going to be up half the night waiting for a teen to get home, dropping off and picking up said teen at social gatherings, keeping an ear out for anyone leaving the house at night (or entering it), and not being able to sleep due to your concerns over Jr.’s grades, habits, potential alcohol use, and how you will pay for college. Sleep now.
4. Start budgeting now to reduce your personal expenditures.
Children of all ages are expensive, but once they hit the teen years, you will never again have any actual cash in your wallet. Get used to the idea of having an allowance smaller than the kids. Figure out which coffee shops near you will take a debit card. Start packing your lunch now in preparation. You’ll thank yourself later.
5. Read as much as you can about letting go of attachments and take many yoga classes with that focus.
You might even want to consider adopting Buddhism. Your teen, and then your young adult, will teach you more than you ever thought possible about letting go of your attachments. You will have to let go of everything you thought you had planned for him again and again.
She won’t want to take honors classes and will hate math, or she’ll reject all of your feminist notions and declare that women shouldn’t work. If you thought you would raise a liberal person, he’ll either be more liberal than you planned (thrash-metal, anarchy, and eyelid piercings anyone?) or will join the new Republicans and declare that there are too many social services.
You’ll become more skillful at letting go of your attachments out of necessity, but you can make it easier by starting early.
6. It’s going to be difficult to come to grips with the reality of your child as a fully sexual being.
Even if you can talk a good game about children being sexual from birth, you will probably find it difficult to really wrap your head around the idea of your little boy looking at porn, or your daughter losing her virginity. But, it’s going to happen, and thanks to social media you may find out more about it than you want.
7. Social media is going to complicate your parenting of a teen in ways you can’t even understand.
If your child is wee right now, it’s impossible to know what the landscape of social media will be in thirteen years, but, whatever it is, you’ll probably find that you aren’t quite prepared for how it impacts parenting a teen. I never would have guessed that I would ask my teen to block me from his photos (if I have access, I’m going to look, and some of it I don’t want to see), but I did. I didn’t realize that their romantic lives would be played out in front of me in the form of Facebook relationship status updates, but they are. And that same teen may know more about you than you planned via those same social channels.
8. Try to keep up with what is new in television, film, music, and video games.
Don’t overdo it. Your teen does not want you acting like you are still in your 20s. But, there will be some times when the only conversation that you can safely engage is about the most recent episode of Sherlock or how funny The Daily Show was last night. When you take out of the conversational gambit school, romantic relationships, household chores, nutrition, personal hygiene, politics, school, religion, budgeting, plans for the future, and school, you may find that nothing is left but the fact that Mass Effect 3 just came out.
9. Your teen is going to be such an interesting person.
You’ll realize, in the teen years, exactly how complex that individual is, and how he or she has developed a whole constellation of understandings and opinions about the world that you never imagined. You’ll be stunned again and again at how much you can learn from your teenager. Even while you struggle with the difficulties of the teen years, you will sometimes find your heart bursting with the same sort of love and amazement you felt when you held that newborn. And, you’ll begin to see a glimpse of the true friendship that you will be able to develop with this person as an adult.
10. This has all been a trick. You can’t really prepare for having a teen, just like you can’t really prepare for having a baby.
It’s all one day at a time, making up rules, testing the ground with each step, making mistakes, and doubling back to try again. You’ll spend some time being sure that the things that happen to other teenagers won’t happen with yours. Then you’ll spend some time being astonished and hurt when they do. And you’ll be amazed that you can get through it.
Ultimately, you’ll find that it’s worth the pain and the struggle, because all of that is part of the joy. And then, before you know it, you’ll be parenting a young adult, and that’s a whole separate post.
(With apologies to both the children whose pictures did not get featured here and those whose pictures did!)
Editor: Kate Bartolotta.