Parenting is hard and definitely not for the faint of heart. You will be puked on, shat on, yelled at, and you will need to deal with things you never imagined. The reward is that you will experience an unconditional love so strong, that all those awful parenting things seem worth it. That is, until you reach the teen stage.
This is a cautionary tale for parents of young children. Parents of young lovely playful children who will one day become teenagers. I am here to tell you that if you don’t start implementing some plans and strategies for their unavoidable growth and maturation, you will indeed hate your life during the teen years. Do not underestimate the power of teenagers, and don’t think for one second that your precious little angel won’t turn in to what seems to be the spawn of Satan himself during that transformative time of teenage hood. But fear not! There are things you can do to prepare, and it starts here.
The first time Dakota stole a car, he was 14. Granted it was his step-monster’s car (it’s okay, I can say that. It’s an agreed upon term for a woman who came and left our lives within one year, leaving a trail of destruction everywhere she went… she earned that name), so it wasn’t “stealing” per se. The second time, he took his aunt’s car for a joy ride and I got a phone call at 4:00 in the morning from a friendly police officer to come pick him up, along with his younger sister who was 12 at the time. Both of my teenagers have tried DXM (a seemingly more legit name for Robitussin), smoked pot (in and out of the house), been suspended from school multiple times, been expelled from school (not both of them for this one), snuck out of the house, and ran away for days on end, all by the time they were 14. And that’s only including what I’m willing to put on this blog. Not only that, they are 100% certain that myself and all the parental figures in their lives are complete fools and know absolutely nothing.
I keep thinking about how every stage of parenthood is hard, and how we’ve categorized and named the stages to reflect the societal view of difficulty level. Most people only reference the “terrible twos,” but I have gone a step further and assigned a few more titles. Some of those said titles include the terrifying threes, fuck off fours, and fuck my life fives. The problem with the vast majority only referencing the terrible twos, it that it ignores the fact that shit does not suddenly improve when that toddler turns three. In fact, it gets worse. And when your little precious hits 13, you’ll be wishing you were in the thick of the terrible twos or the fuck off fours, when you could at least pick your darling up and put them where you need them. But what is the title for teens? It seems that “teen” is a noun and a verb, but I’d like to propose, “tragically torturing teens” or maybe “tighten my noose teens.” Something that can accurately portray the feeling of hopelessness that comes with parenting teens is hard to grasp.
Then there are the parents of toddlers who love to give advice to parents of teenagers, so first of all, if that is you, please stop. I have heard it all. I am here to tell you that everything you think will save you from the teen years will not work. Your open communication will bite you in the ass, for even though your teen will be totally open with you and you’ll have great communication, they’ll talk to you like a friend and not respect your authority as a parent. If you think that because you were a shit teen you’ll likely be more understanding and empathetic… nope. When the shoe is on the other foot, it is awful. Who you’ll feel understanding and empathy for is likely your parents, and you may even feel the need to call them and apologize for being such an asshole. I recommend doing that if you feel so inclined. I’m holding out for my teens to realize it and apologize when they’re in their thirties. It’s a long game, this parenting gig.
What I have come to discover is that your children absolutely need to have a healthy level of fear for you, along with a good amount of respect. So while the open communication and empathy will help, if it is not paired with discipline, clear boundaries, consistency, hard life lessons, and some pretty serious consequences when needed, it will do nothing for you. At least not in the teen years. Best case scenario, if your relationship survives the teen years you may end up being besties with your kids, but they won’t see you as an authority figure.
I have taken so many psychology classes (psych is one of my streams for my B.A. Soc.Sc.), including many on the child development topic, which all typically cover the four parenting styles. The optimal style is “authoritative,” but I need to tell you that there is a fine line between that and “permissive.” I have always considered myself authoritative, but I feel like I may have potentially fell in to the permissive role for a bit, and that has wreaked havoc on our household. I am not proud of it, and there are numerous factors that contributed to it, but I’ll save that for another blog post.
Whatever the case, now might be the time to put contingency plans in place for when you’re feeling a bit permissive (or as my mom likes to call it… when your head is in the sand). If you don’t have a partner to help you out, then make arrangements with a friend you can call, another family member, or even a parenting hotline. In Calgary here, the Wood’s Home has a community resource team, and they will literally come to your house and help you dole out consequences as needed. It is an amazing resource, and I highly encourage you to put their number on speed dial, or find a similar resource local to you. You may need it. We need to remember that is does take a village to raise a child/teen, and setting up that village now will benefit you in the long run.
The thing is, if you wait until you are navigating life with teenagers, it may be too late. You really need to set up the framework way before they’re smoking pot and stealing cars. They need to go in to their teenage years knowing what the expectations are and what the consequences will be. Having the knowledge, understanding, and now the experience that I do, I have started talking to our younger three about what is unacceptable/acceptable in the house. They know that if I ever catch them with a vape, it will immediately be taken away. They know that they ALWAYS have to ask before using the T.V. or playing a computer game, and they are not allowed to just be on a screen to their hearts content. They are required to make their beds daily, and do small chores around the house. They can also rely on nightly stories, bedtime snuggles, a chest to cry on, and open communication. It’s all just one big balancing act.
If I caught you in time, and you are not currently drowning in teenage angst, I hope this post might help or motivate you to go in to the teen years more prepared than you would have been otherwise. And if you, like me, are barely staying afloat and have completely gone in survival mode, I empathize with you. Please be kind on yourself, because believe me… I know how easy it is to fall in to the spiral of self hate and parenting hell while raising teenagers.