I read this great article last week about parenting teenagers and part of what’s so hard about it, and it totally resonated with me. You should go read it right now, whether you’re the parent of a teenager or are even remotely close to the edge of this particular minefield of parenting. It’s a great piece. And it’s part of a greater whole of the conversation I seem to be having with everyone I know, and plenty of people I don’t. I’ve written a fair amount about motherhood (and parenthood in general) on Petit Elefant, and the things I’m figuring out along the way, but the teenage years are a whole other bag.
See, here’s the thing: when you parent a baby, or a toddler, or young child there are rule books aplenty. Entire doctoral dissertations are written about the different parenting styles, ad nauseum; attachment parenting, free-range, baby-wise. But once you get to a certain stage of parenting life, you have to let it all go. None of the styles really matter anyway because your little human will establish himself, (or herself) with or without your help, thankyouverymuch. None of the books matter, (spoiler alert: they didn’t matter in the beginning either). We’re all winging it, and almost universally, teenagers are hard to raise. But we’re not still sitting in weekly music groups with other parents and a collective of children. We’re not meeting at the park for play dates and grousing about teething babies and weaning and sleep woes. We’re all huddled in our own homes, praying we’re doing it right on our own, seldom sharing the nitty gritty details for fear of judgement that we’re doing it all wrong.
So I was really happy a few weeks ago when a friend of mine talked to me for over an hour about her experience of raising teenagers. She’s several years down the road I’m currently traveling, and I appreciated her honesty so much. We’re all walking around talking about parenting older kids like we’ve got it figured out, but the truth is, most of the time we’re just holding our breath while they grow out of the bad stages; not unlike toddlers but with messier life consequences.
This particular friend of mine is on the other side of some really, really hard and painful stuff, and she was so honest with me about the specifics of a particular child and a time she wasn’t sure they would make it to their 21st birthday. How things were so bad at one point she and her husband were looking at every alternative to get their kid out of the country as they moved through the bad choices and serious life consequences. And I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. How parenting older children is a lot like anything else painful in life; the death of a loved one, an excruciating diagnosis, or divorce: sometimes you just have to keep breathing through the pain, one day at a time. Eventually it becomes less of a nightmare to wake up every morning.
Just because we’re not all sharing the particulars of our children’s lives doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Just because we’re not all sharing with the world the specific ways our children are screwing up and breaking our hearts doesn’t mean we’re ignoring it, or pretending we’re better at parenting than anyone else. Sometimes the heartbreak is too much to talk about, and honestly, the story isn’t entirely ours in the first place. Sharing it is a dishonesty in itself.
The painful, beautiful truth about parenting is that we launch an entire human life, and after awhile that life isn’t ours to offer up anymore, for the good and the bad. It’s not our story to tell. These kids are actual people, with full futures and interesting lives ahead, and their mistakes as teenagers really shouldn’t be broadcast to the world.
So give yourself a break. If you look around every once in awhile you’ll see through the shiny veneer of the fellow struggling parents, travelers walking next to you on the broken road. Give each other a nod of acknowledgement, a smile of support and solidarity and know that the particulars of the difficulty aren’t important to know. It’s all hard, but eventually we settle into the choices our children make, and someday, eventually, it will get easier to breathe.