The one thing no one warned me about having a teenager

Everyone who has ever had a teenager knows how difficult it is for parents. Emotions are running amok, hormones are all over the place, and you never know what mood you are going to get from one day to the next. But this is common knowledge. Everyone warns you about this. You’ve heard it a million times. But, more than that, you were once a teenager yourself and you remember being this way. I feel as though, as a mom, I’ve been preparing for this moment for years. I knew it was coming. I planned accordingly. I was good to go.

Then, boom. Just like that, I wasn’t.

First of all, I want to preface with the fact that these are difficult times for everyone. From toddlers to teenagers, from adults to the elderly, everyone is having a hard time dealing with the isolation and solitude and uncertainty caused by this pandemic. And I don’t want to get into which group is struggling the most because this shouldn’t be a competition. But, boy, do I feel badly for teenagers. Being 16 is supposed to be about parties and sleepovers. A 16-year-olds weekend is supposed to be hanging out with friends and going to movies and chilling. Teenagers need their peers more than they need anyone else. They are carving out their personal sense of self and a key part of that relies heavily on fitting in with, and being accepted by, their friends. This is, by far, not the time to be isolated and alone. Coupled with the volatility of the raging hormones and the dramatic emotions, and today’s teenagers need even more parental patience and understanding.

I get that.

So, all this being said, I think I can safely and humbly say that I always considered myself to be one of the “cool” moms. I try my best to understand the feelings and wants and needs of my children. I listen to them. We have open communication. They can come to me with any and all problems that arise in their lives. And they do. Or, at least, they did.

We had always been the best of friends, but with a healthy, parental boundary. And I always knew that the day would arise when I would come second in their lives and their friends would replace me in that top spot. And that would be okay with me because I would still be a close second. I remember exactly the kind of teenager I was, back in the day, and that knowledge and those memories would allow me to a) understand their behaviour, no matter how outlandish and dramatic and b) empathize. Empathy would always be my biggest asset in navigating the troublesome teenager tidal waves.

I never had any of the above-mentioned things with my parents when I was growing up, so I naively figured all of this would be enough. I was wrong.

So back to the main topic of this rant. I never anticipated being spared the teenage years. I went into this stage knowing full well that no amount of understanding, empathy, or friendly ears would prevent the difficulties ahead. But I wish someone had warned me about how much it hurts.

Selfishly, I wonder why he doesn’t like me. What did I do, or not do, to warrant this heart-breaking rejection. But parents are rarely, if ever, supposed to think it’s about them. We are supposed to be unselfishly giving and understanding. And I’ve always done that. But this HURTS. As one of my fellow mom-of-a-teenager put it so perfectly: “my Mommy heart hurts and I second guess myself every day.” My Mommy heart hurts. And not the hurt that you feel when your child is sad or gets hurt. That’s a hurt in a I-wish-I-could-protect-them-from-all-the-pain-in-the-world hurt. This is different. This cuts deep. And no one warned me. I feel like a heads up would have been appreciated before I found myself sobbing on a kitchen floor listening to sad songs like a teenager that just got dumped for the first time.

The logical side of me knows that this is temporary and it is just a phase and we will come out of this with a stronger mom-son bond. But that doesn’t help the hurt of today. As my eloquent mom-of-a-teenager put it: “I know I will be there for him the day he hopefully decides to “like” me again. I can’t imagine my future and relationship with him any other way.” But let that sentence roll around your parental heart for a second: the day he decides to “like” me again....

And maybe that’s why no one really talks about this part of the mom experience. Maybe it’s a little like giving birth. It hurts like hell but, once it is over and done with, you kinda forget just how much it hurt. Maybe the “day he decides to like me again” is such a wonderful day and the relationship is then forever stronger and more connected that the painful days are easily forgotten.

But that doesn’t make me feel better today.

I think the knowledge that I’m not alone and that I didn’t do anything wrong is keeping me trudging along trying to navigate these murky waters as best as I can. Commiserating with other moms-of-teens is definitely helpful. I realize that many moms-of-not-yet-teens are reading this and thinking that this won’t be their story. That their journey is going to be totally different because “they have open communication” or their kid is “different” or any of the other reasons I told myself made my situation different, back in my naive days. And I truly wish that for you. But, if it doesn’t quite turn out that way, don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

- Sarah Birtwistle

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