Monday, September 14, 2009

Teens Are NOT That Bad

Before I had children I heard people joke about having teenagers. Like how it was more fun getting a root canal without anesthetic--that kind of thing--but honestly? It kind of surprised me because while I don't recall the teen years being the most enjoyable part of my own life it seemed as if my parents had survived, sanity in tact and none the worse. Though you may not want to quote me on that.

When our first child, Grace, was born one of the first times I took her out as an infant fresh from the hospital Andrew and I were at a store when a woman stopped to look at our new baby. She gushed and fussed over our beautiful daughter then looked at us full in the face and in complete seriousness said, "Enjoy her now. This is the best that it's going to be."

I stared at the woman, open-mouthed. I couldn't believe she'd say that and then felt horribly sorry for anyone who had had such experiences with their children to allow them to make such a statement.

Of course I could be kidding myself but could it really be that bad?

Then I had more children and went through those "Terrible Twos" and thought "Hey, these years aren't called 'terrible' for no reason, if the teen years have anything on this I'm doomed. Doomed!"

But pretty soon Grace started creeping towards 11, she was babysitting regularly for us, heading into junior high and growing like crazy but I honestly could say that, while an emotional roller coaster ride with which no soap opera could compete, things weren't really that bad at all. In fact it was all kind of fun having an older child around.

She could take care of herself, help out around the house, express herself more coherently, show her love in various ways and she didn't wake up in the middle of the night sick to her stomach anymore. We'd have days where there were lots of tears--make that weeks and months with lots of tears--but still. I was having a hard time seeing the down side to the whole arrangement.

Twelve . . . thirteen . . . fourteen . . . I kept waiting for that inevitable shoe to fall when my little girl would pull that Jekyl-and-Hyde move that would send me screaming for help but instead I found that not only was our daughter becoming more lovely and more intelligent but the conversation was definitely getting better and the pleasure of seeing a child that had once depended on you for everything slowly become their own person with likes and dislikes, talents and weaknesses was something I'd never really expected.

Of course there have been plenty of times when I've sworn that if I never hear the words "David Archuleta," "Edward Cullen" or "That's sick!" again it would be too soon but generally speaking life with teens has had a bad rap. Not only have I not fallen out-of-love with my child during these years of upheaval I find that I love her even more than I did a year ago or two years ago or when I first held her. And I suspect that it's not a case of us having a perfect child in a class by herself because I've watched her friends and generally speaking I've never seen a group of young people who are as centered, goal-oriented and all around quality material as they are. Life with teens is tons better than life with those years of pre-arranged toddler playdates where kids smash each other's goldfish crackers and moms have to call the other moms afterwards to apologize because their child spent the day biting pieces out of the other kids (not that I have any experience with that or anything, it's just hypothetical).

But the difference between the toddler years and the teen years is that one is labor-intensive. You're cutting up food, cleaning up messes, making sure the diapers are clean but once you get into the teen years they're taking care of those things for themselves and your job is all emotional--are they choosing the right friends? Are they staying serious about their education? How can I inspire them to want to succeed? While it's much more difficult to supply that emotional support and discipline it's much more rewarding--you feel more successful as a parent and you're given a stronger connection to your child than what you get from merely supplying their physical needs.

It seems it's all about loving them no matter what, accepting that they're a unique person with their own personality, choices and life and then realizing that they're not a finished product yet (are any of us?) You'll have to check back with me a few years down the road to see how my theory is holding up but at this point I have to say that if you don't have teenagers yet, you're in luck because the best is yet to come.

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49 comments:

Michemily said...

But aren't first children supposed to be awesome? I think it's the ones that follow that are supposed to be the ones that make you wonder why you had children. So good luck. (I have no idea what I'm talking about.)

Shoebox Princess said...

I love my teenagers! I've had three so far, and one more officially begins teenagerhood next March. Sure there are rough spots, but not the daily wear and tear like from toddlers and preschoolers.

I might miss the baby years a bit, but I have REALLY enjoyed having these young adults in the house to talk with, share stories with, go to movies with, and I dearly love watching them in their various activities. It's been a pleasure watching them grow into their own personalities. Sure there have been rough spots, but the good has outweighed the bad.

It helps that my children are generally obedient, though. Willful, rebellious teenagers wouldn't be so much fun.

Mom24 said...

I was terrified to have teens, in my home my older brothers and sister made our life H***. I have been so amazed and delighted and humbled to have my two oldest children, 25 & 17, and I'm equally sure things will be just fine with my youngest two, 9 & 6. I think it's all about building those important foundation blocks--love, trust, closeness. Also, have positive expectations. I am extremely close to all four of my children, that never changed as the older became teens, nor now that my oldest is married with a family of his own. You do have to have that foundation though, you can't just expect it all of a sudden to develop when they're older.

Two things I've definitely learned from living with teens though, never let them get too tired or too hungry. :-)

Susan warmchocmilk said...

I was a difficult teen for my parents. But we were also close and had good times too. Nothing in life is cut and dry it seems. Teenagers are teenagers, there's good days and bad.

Jill in MA said...

Thanks for this post! My oldest is turning 6 and my 3yo knows how to push all of my buttons. It's good to know that I can look forward to the years to come!

Rachel C. said...

Thanks for posting about teens! Our first baby will be born in about a week, and to be honest, raising a child has totally freaked me out! Knowing that each stage has its ups and downs--and there's not one horrible one--is comforting!

SarahHub said...

I like this post! As a mother of a toddler, and another baby on the way, this is what I'm hoping and imagining things will be for us... I was a good teenager and my husband was a "bad" one, so between both of us, we have a lot of experience to draw from!

Leigh said...

What a beautiful post! I'm in the middle of the terrible 2's and the pre-school years - and I've had people say the same things to me! I'm so encouraged to know that it's not everyone's experience!

Suburban Correspondent said...

It is true that we mustn't tar all teens with the same brush. Some teens are great. Some are middling. And some are an utter nightmare. You can have all 3 types within one family, so let's not even start saying, "You just have to...." do such-and-such when raising your kids. There are no guarantees whatsoever.

I've had a great teen and an extremely challenging one (believe me, no matter how much you love them, the extremely challenging ones are very hard to like sometimes). And I've still got 4 to go! My experience is not an anomaly - I've seen it in other families, too. Siblings vary, although raised by the same parents.

Be grateful for your daughter, enjoy her, and remain humble. You never know what the others will be like. One of the best books I've read for any of you with troubling (or troubled) teens is "Come Back," a memoir written by both the mother and the daughter about the teen's stormy adolescence and what they both learned about themselves and each other from the experience. I stayed up all night reading it.

Mel said...

We thoroughly enjoyed all six of ours starting with you. We loved having you around. It brings even greater joy to see you raising a daughter as wonderful as you are and were.

Love,
Dad

Scribbit said...

Well, you do hear things about oldest children but I have a son hitting 13 next month and he's been as fun as Grace. I'm quite hopeful . . .

Scribbit said...

And Suburban--thanks for the comment, and I do agree that you can do one thing for one child and get a completely different result with the next. I guess I'm just trying to say that while it can be difficult there are wonderful things about it too.

And thanks for the book recommendation. I might need it.

Heart2Heart said...

Michelle,

I am right there with you. Truer words could never have been written. It is true that we worry more on the emotional levels. Mine is 16, and I find she is wanting to spend more time away from the family doing girl things then hanging out with us. I guess these are the transition years when she is going from a child into an adult of her own.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Anonymous said...

There is such a negative connotation to the word "teen". I think sometimes we get what we expect out of our children. It can be used as an excuse to act a certain way. We have four children, ages 26-35, and for the most part got through those years unscathed. Now that they are all grown, we can look back and know that there are challenges at all the different stages.

We even have a grandson now that is a teenager!

Kelly @ Love Well said...

I think there's way too much hype about the teen years being horrible. I used to work with teenagers in youth groups, and I saw MANY teens who were really great people. So while I know there are no guarantees, I'm secretly looking forward to those less-labor-intensive, more-good-conversation years.

And now I have to go, because the baby is dialing the phone.

The Texas Bakers said...

We're still a few years away from teenagers, but your post has really given me hope for the future. Right now I'll just keep enjoying their babyhood/toddlerhood/childhood and trying to establish relationships that can survive those emotional years.

Inkling said...

So you mean I won't be wiping bottoms, noses, and faces forever? And some day I can actually leave the room alone to use the bathroom or get something to eat, without having to take the little one with me so he won't sustain a head injury? Sounds blissful......

Seriously, I love this post. My parents never took the time to enjoy me as a teen, instead wanting to send a fairly good (and shy, compliant) kid to go live somewhere else. Instead of a group home though, fortunately, my youth pastor and his wife rescued me and let me live with them. To this day, my relationship with my mom is pretty much surface stuff with little trust on my side. It is incredible what you have with your kids. You guys are a real blessing to each other, and I am learning so much from you during these posts. Thank you!

Lisa said...

I have a 16 year old that is a delight. However, my 12 year old is the one I'm completely afraid to let grow up. Both are girls, one is just harder than the other. But people told me the same thing about my oldest---"Just wait..." I waited, luckily for me she just hasn't shown any signs of trouble!

Meg said...

I have never understood why people feel compelled to scare the wits out of new parents! My children are 7 and 9 and I believe that every "stage" has been better than the last, rough patches included. I tell new parents that all the time: it just keeps getter better, even with the challenges.

The Source said...

We have two teens and two 12's right now and I have to say that we've loved these years also! The older two are tremendous help with the younger two and have set great examples for their little brothers to follow. However...two things...

"Nineteen-Almost-Twenty" is turning out to be somewhat more difficult than 13-18 were. We're sort of in the middle of freedom issues...as in "I want to live at home and have mom cook dinner and do my laundry when I forget, but I prefer to come and go as I please."

The other thing...I just came from my daughter's high school where my husband and I were treated to live entertainment in the office by a group of little thugs with bad attitudes and pants around their knees talking about how they didn't bring their drugs to school today because they knew they would be patted down upon entering the building. I am pretty certain that those of us with the really good kids...we're VERY blessed!

Amy said...

Thank you so much for saying this!

owlfan said...

My older son is only 13.5, so I've only been dealing with a teen for 6 months and have lots more to go. I will say that a few months before he hit 13, the attitude started. I don't always like the new attitude, but other times he is nice and pleasant.

Personally I've liked the ages 8-12 best. And lucky me, I still have one firmly in that age range - they are old enough to be reasonably self-sufficient, old enough to reason with, generally fun to be around, and not so old to not want to be seen with a parent.

april said...

In my experience (and I'm drawing from the perspective of a teenager, since that's closer in years than having a teen of my own), it's about the parenting.

If you're a good parent, you have a good teen (no one's a "great/perfect" parent, so take this with a gain of salt). If you're not a good parent (or worse, a bad one), your teen will get into trouble.

Now, there are exceptions to every rule of course, but generally I found this to be true.

The good kids had parents that loved them, and showed their love in a healthy way (emotional support, discipline, etc... not giving tons of presents and letting the kid do what they want). The kids that were always getting in to trouble had parents who were oblivious to their mistakes (both in their own parenting skills, and those their child made), or treated their kids poorly (neglect or abuse).

Kids need a solid foundation when they're trying to figure out their identities. Teens are struggling with abstract concepts for the first time (who am I really? what's my purpose? what's the point of all this?), and need a place to land as they try on different theories.

If the place to land is broken or doesn't exist, they fall. If it catches them, they thrive.

Anyway, just my two cents. :)

Fawn said...

Thank you for posting this. I get so annoyed at the self-satisfied jerks who say, "Just wait until they're teenagers!" One time Michael posted an (admittedly vague) update to his status on FB about the hard time we were having with Jade. He was referring to her very challenging medical issues. Someone wrote, "Oh you just wait until she's a teenager" and I wanted to throttle that woman. Talk about thoughtless and clueless, and, as you, utterly spurious.

Oops, I didn't mean to rant like that...

Fawn said...

Argh - "as you SAY"

Littlemummy said...

Loved this post Michelle, teenagers are given such bad press.

Wild to Child said...

My kids aren't even close to being teenagers, so I can't identify with you on that level. However, I believe I was a really good teen. Got good grades, listened to my parents and was never troubled my much. I think it's all in your approach...behavior as a teen can also be attributed to how a child is brought up too.

Sounds like you raised your daughter well!

Amber

MommaMindy said...

I rejoice to hear of so many moms enjoying the teen years, truly not all "suffer" :) during those years. We have three teens in the home now and feel much peace, blessing and enjoyment.

I am thankful that you are so happy and that your daughter, Grace, is doing so well, but I can also tell you have never had a prodigal. (I am THANKFUL you haven't experienced that, and pray you never do, so I say this to remind, not to judge.) The sad reality is, that no matter how well kids are raised,how well they are loved and supported, or what a great example their parents set, teens make their own choices in life, and they don't always choose the values they have been raised with.

People who say those negative things are probably parents who have been scarred by their children and maybe haven't healed. People talk freely about child abuse, but people rarely talk about parental abuse, but it can be a reality for some parents. I am talking about GOOD parents, parents that have had the kind of goals and involvement you all have had.

The hardest thing for parents of prodigals is that at time when they are prostrate in grief over their children, most other parents take that opportunity to take a jab, or a kick, placing the blame on them. They're not understanding that most parents don't TEACH their kids to drink, smoke,do drugs, have sex, steal, etc. The kids make choices.

May you all be blessed in your parenting; may you continue to enjoy and love your children. I pray that they will never stray. And if they do, may you have the diligence, wisdom, love and faith to woo them back.

Jenna Consolo said...

I totally and completely agree with you. (and we have 3 and 2 almost teens!) To me, the only downside of parenting teens is the booming realization that pretty soon they will leave the nest and be on their own. How much I will miss their faces day to day.

Flea said...

I always wondered how bad it could be to have teens. I almost have three now (Thaniel will be 13 next summer). While it's nowhere near as bad as it could be, it's no walk in the park, either.

I think the most surprising, disturbing thing for me was the huge changes that occurred in just a few months time, between 12 and 13. They are SO not the children I raised. They're great kids, essentially the same, but drastically different.

I'm okay with that. They're individuating. It just threw me for awhile. Emotionally, though? So much like having a three year old. And BOY am I glad I don't have to change diapers on kids this size!

Shelly @ Life on the Wild Side said...

I so agree!! I love my teenagers! They are fun, communicative, responsible kids who are great to have around.

I do find that I pray more for my teenagers than I ever have before. It seems like their future is right around the corner and their decisions are going to be so big.

oh amanda said...

Thank you for this! You know, I have always hated that whole idea that teenagers are always bad. My mom always told me that she loved every stage in our lives more than the last. And that's what I've always wanted for my kids. I know I love my 3yo more than the first day I held her. So, I am anticipating loving her even more when she's 16!

I'm linking to this post this weekend on Impress Your Kids! :)

Carrie said...

Thank you SO MUCH for this post. My son is almost 2, and I have a little girl on the way, and I remember when Z was tiny I went through a really hard stage - adjusting to being a new mom, and EVERYONE would say to me - Oh, if you think this is hard, just wait till you have teenagers! One time at Walmart, a lady said something like what you experienced, along the lines of "this is the best it gets, so enjoy it now" right in front of her teenager! I wonder why he acts out, knowing his mom feels that way, right??? My MIL was with me and she replied with something like, "Oh, I think they're pretty special when they get older, too". She's a much faster thinker than me. :) I really enjoyed your viewpoint about the physical vs. emotional difficulties - thank you again for writing this! :)

Karen Olson said...

While we've had moments with my 12 year old, on the whole, she's a great kid and we are thoroughly enjoying her. Granted, it's still six months to official teenage-dom but I'm not too worried.

cndymkr / jean said...

I love to hear that you and your daughter are getting along. It seems that my friends with teen daughters are constantly complaining about them. I always got along with my mother and I hope to have that same type of relationship with my son.

Kirby3131 said...

I wasn't the best teenager, but I never got arrested, never wrecked a car, didn't get pregnant and held a job throughout my entire HS years and paid for all of my wants for myself. I have a very good relationship with my parents now. My younger sisters were saints compared to me and for that, I'm so happy. I was actually a pretty good kid, but I tested those boundaries, sometimes on an hourly basis!

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I agree wholeheartedly. My daughter definitely is hormonal, and there are emotions that come with that. She's started dieting (which I hate), so when she's hungry she's snippy. But overall, I love having a teen in the house. She's only 13, so I'll let you know when she's in her 20s how the rest of the teens went, but so far, I really like it.

Hairline Fracture said...

Thanks for giving us parents of younger children hope. I'm sure the teen years can be very hard for some kids and their parents, but it's good to know that it doesn't always have to be the case.

Daisy said...

I thoroughly enjoyed my daughter's teen years. Her friends hung out here (because I baked them cookies and let them drink Mt.Dew), and they were a terrific group of kids. She's still in touch with many (they're all finishing college now), and I love it when they come over.

swellflamingo said...

What a great post! I have three children under the age of five and people tell me ALL the time... "this is the easy part... just wait until they are teens."
And here I am - walking around on only 4 hours of sleep, cheerios stuck to my rear, and the lingering smell of poo and spit up following me wherever I go - thinking... this is EASY?!?!?! I'm doomed.
Thank you SO MUCH for writing about positive teen experiences")

Cheri said...

THANK YOU For such a GREAT post. I had several comments about my son when he was a baby about "enjoy it now..." which I couldn't stand hearing. I would try to promptly change the subject and move on...I try to enjoy each day in the present. He is 4 now and I have enjoyed every single day.

About the teens...I use to teach high school and 99% of them out there are so AWESOME. I had the pleasure to know some of the neatest teens doing such thoughtless acts of kindness. I just know that they are making positive differences in this world. They really do get a bad rap in the media. Yes, they go through those teen changes but they are still amazing.

My mother died when I was still teaching and my students were so incredibly supportive. Many of them shared with me their own stories of losing a parent. Others were just so very kind. They flooded me with letters and cards that I still have.

It is not easy going through all of those changes in the teen years!

Thanks again for giving teens a good rap!!

Sonja said...

What a wonderful post! Thank you so much. Teenagehood looms in the not too distant future for us. I also find it hard to believe that they will be as horrible as everyone seems to think they are.

Of course, it's not hard to see why your daughter is as lovely as she is. I'm thinking of the old saying, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

Lightening said...

Glad to hear you're enjoying it! I guess everyone is different and finds different ages easier/more enjoyable than others. I really enjoyed the toddler years, despite all the hype about "terrible 2's". On the other hand, our eldest is 11 and already on an emotional roller coaster. I have no idea how we're going to survive!!!! Not that we don't have our wonderful moments as well but parenting is just plain hard work with him at the moment. :(

An Ordinary Mom said...

I love this post! What a fresh and positive perspective. I can't believe I will have a teenager in a few years?!

Stephanie said...

This is a wonderful post, Michelle! So encouraging and uplifting and wise.

Call us crazy, but my husband and I think the teenage years will be...dare I say it?...kind of fun.

stephanie@metropolitanmama.net

katepickle said...

Thank you for posting that!

I have twin girls who are almost 6 and I am constantly teased and taunted with 'wait till they are teenagers' like it will some horrific event from which non oe us will ever recover.

It's so refreshing to hear that while challenging (when is parenting not challenging?) it isn't the horror that people make it out to be.

Janet said...

Thank you - I've been worrying because my 5-year-old acts like a stereotypical teen, but in general, she's pretty cool. I will not dread the coming teen years now. (Remind me in 10 years that I said this.)

Grace @ Sandier Pastures said...

Hi Michelle, so sorry for the late comment. I've not touched my feed reader for ages.

Anyway, I just want to say that Grace is what/how she is right now because of you and Andrew. You brought her up so well that she's feeling secure and not so vulnerable to the changes in her own body, mind and the things around her (other teenagers). She's growing to be a lovely, disciplined and kind woman like her mom.

I didn't have those "teen episodes" the people predicted when I was a teenager. My parents were afraid but no, nothing happened. It was because they shared so much of their time and undivided attention with me although I have 5 other siblings!

I hope your other children will be like Grace too when they become teens but with parents like you and Andrew, I'm sure they will be.

Steve said...

(I'm actually Tori) We have our children's teenage years ahead of us, and that is so encouraging to hear! Thanks!