Just see.

January 2nd, 2013

The dreaded teen years and other parenting cliches.


He was born in an ice storm, fourteen years ago today. Through our first-floor bedroom window I could see the wind battering the cherry laurel. Bend, don’t break, I thought, as another contraction hit. I glanced at the clock: five-oh-oh. I can keep this up for about another two hours, I thought, and then, obligingly, he was born, just a little past seven in the evening.

That was the last time parenting went according to my plan. I laughed out loud when I saw that he was a boy. I had just known I was carrying a girl all those months. Everything I thought I already knew about my child was shed in that moment, and I have since come to believe that the main work of raising children is letting go of what you knew it would be like, over and over again.

People told me what being pregnant would be like. What birth would be like. What life with a baby would be like. Now people tell me what having a teenager is like. Sometimes they are talking about their own experience. More often, I think they are just repeating the stories they were told. It’s so easy to recite from a script, not realizing we are handing out a part with each cliche.

Patrick cracks a joke about the older boys’ rising artistic talent, from which we both take no small degree of pride. “Well, someone around here better go into banking and make money,” he teases.

“Let’s not tell that joke anymore,” I say one day, realizing I have been guilty of telling it, too. I know adults who have been creatively paralyzed their whole lives by fear of the starving artist tale they were handed as kids. Even we, working in the arts with as much comfort and uncertainty as most middle class people we know, are still passing it along. And it means nothing. There are no career choices insulated from risk.

I feel the same way when it comes to cliches about teenagers. No one knows better than me how tumultuous adolescence can be. But I don’t want to hand my particular experience to my own kids as a general expectation. When I mention that we have entered the teen years, and people respond with a groan of mock sympathy, I think, “Let’s not tell that joke anymore. Let’s just see.”

When I was pregnant with him, I noticed there were two stories about having babies: one about how great the cost is, another about how rich the experience is. I decided to surround myself with people who were telling the second story, even when they were sharing candidly about the challenges. I believe it made all the difference in how I experienced those intense early years. It wasn’t so much hard, as it was all new.

So far, being the mother of a teenager isn’t so much hard, as it is new. Every day he surprises, delights, and confounds me with evidence that I still don’t know everything I thought I did.

It might get harder. It might not. Either way, I choose to keep telling the second story. And to just see.



16 Responses to “Just see.”

  1. Asha says:

    YES. The intro to the teen years has been so delightful here, and I’m basking in it. When it changes, if it changes, we will handle it then but NOW we’re cherishing every moment. I make sure the kids hear it from us, too. How much we find older kids fascinating, how much excitement and possibility happens during the teen years. It’s not papering over anything to highlight the good parts. If the hard parts come, we’ll deal with them then. No amount of preparation will help, so what’s the point?

    • Yes! To excitement and possibility. I was reveling in the company of my son and his friends yesterday. So much passion, no cynicism — I think I prefer their company to most adults. And I emphatically agree with making sure teens know they are as cherished and doted upon every bit as much as when they were tiny. xoxo

  2. I think all the stories are true to some extent and you have a choice of what you want to focus on, as you are doing. Our oldest will be 15 this month and our younger child will turn 13 in a couple of months. So far the teen years are terrible AND wonderful. And while we have to cope with terrible days and moods and attitude, we can choose to focus on the wonderful, and most days, I do.

    There’s a lot to be said for choosing what you want to listen to in what people tell you about parenting. Once when I was pregnant I was at dinner with a group of women writers. 2 or 3 of the women who had school-aged children were warning me that I would NEVER get any writing done while my child was a baby or toddler, it was simply impossible. An older woman (Joan Clark, if you know her) whose children were grown up leaned over and whispered “I did my best writing while my children were small. Sometimes people tell you you can’t do it because they didn’t do it.” I think that’s true of parenting horror stories generally.

    • Mir says:

      I love your post, Kyran, plus everything that Trudy said here. With one teen and one-turning-teen-tomorrow, I have never been so acutely aware of there not being a single answer on this one. But even when they’re horrible, most teens I know are still pretty delightful.

      • Thanks, Mir! As someone who’s been writing in this medium with me since our “bigs” were small, I appreciate the way you continue to share the spectrum of your experience as a parent, while navigating the need to provide more cover for maturing kids. Keep telling that rich story. xo

    • Thanks for sharing that wonderful story! I want to be remembered as that encouraging whisper against the gust of naysayers. I know Joan only by name, but I can tell I would like her. 🙂

  3. marilee pittman says:

    you continue to confound me with your wisdom…

  4. mary says:

    When I was pregnant I was convince by others, that I was having a girl. A co-worker and my bother continuously told me that I was having a boy. After my c section, in recovery I could hear a nurse saying that I had a girl and then another said, no, she had a boy. I was still groggy and couldn’t speak. In my mind, I was saying “no, my baby is supposed to be a girl.” He is three years old now. Gender didn’t/doesn’t matter…. He is light of out lives.. I can’t imagion what our lives would be like without him.

  5. Jenny says:

    I just love this so much. I’m guilty of “telling that joke” a lot — and I like your “Let’s not tell that joke anymore” philosophy. It’s going to pop into my mind a lot after reading this piece. I often joke to my 9-year-old daughter about how miserable teenagers are. What am I thinking? Why am I setting her up like that? Thanks for making me think.

    • Kelly says:

      Yes! Lately we tell our almost-11 year old daughter how she’ll be totally hating us in a few years. Maybe not the best idea?!

  6. Betsy says:

    As someone who has children that almost out of the teen years (17 and 19) I have to say I love the teen years!!!! And as they get older they become reasonable and fun and oh so enjoyable. The only thing that I am not enjoying is that they become more expensive-LOL, but they can drive, they can cook, they can do their own laundry, and they can stay by themselves if you want to get away for a night. And they can say say “Thank you” without being prompted. Enjoy the journey.

  7. Pamela says:

    Since my children are adults now, almost 25 and 29, I have a different perspective. All child rearing is a blessing and a curse. But the one thing I DO know is that JUST YESTERDAY I had babies. Now they are gone. Please know this….these years FLY BY. Cherish your children….baby’s, toddlers, Tweens and teens and young adults. Even when they seem so far away from you they always circle back. It’s all hard work. It’s also so FUN and rewarding. And then it’s over. Your children will ALWAYS be your children, but they become adults with their own lives and commitments and then kids of their own…enjoy it…squeeze every last drop of it…soak it up! Remind yourself at all times what is REALLY going to matter in the grand scheme of things.

  8. Kelly says:

    I enjoyed this so much! I still have a couple years to go before I have a teen, but I’m already dreading it — both from all the stories and statistics that show the unhappiest people are those with teenagers — and my own experience as a kid. I remind myself how very, very different my own kids’ lives have been thus far, and that we can write our own stories.

    Frankly, I’m enjoying the Big Kid years way more than the small kid ones, and I can only hope it continues!

  9. Cid says:

    I didn’t realize the eldest of both of our three sons were born on the same day one year apart. My boy was born during a mild El Niño winter, ironic that he is now a hockey-playing, ski-racing boy who loves the cold. Belated happy birthday to you & yours.

  10. Karen says:

    As the mother of a 14 year old boy, I absolutely loved and needed this post….thanks!

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