5 Things No One Tells You About Raising Teens
Full disclosure: I've been married 16 years, I have three kids who are ages 10, 12, and 14, and there's a mole on my right inner thigh that's changed shape recently. That last confession has nothing to do with this column, but my lawyer says that every full disclosure has to include one status update on my body moles.
Maybe I shouldn't have picked a lawyer who graduated from DeVry.
I know what you're thinking: "Oh, but Kristi, you're too young and hot to have kids that old! Are you sure they're yours?" No, I'm not. But I'm too far along in the parenting game to ask for maternity tests now. The interesting thing about raising kids is that you never picture yourself with teenagers. You picture yourself with cute little babies and scrappy kindergartners, but imagining a future version of you standing shoulder to shoulder with a future version of your offspring is next to impossible. Now that this future is here for me, it's way more fun than I expected. Here's what no one told me about raising older kids.
Your Kids Can Be a Substitute for Friends Now!
By the time your children have figured out how to do #2 on or around the toilet, there's an amazing chance you've already lost every real world friend you've ever had. Not because you're terrible or your kids are terrible or you insist on talking about your child's doodies, but because the energy and time it takes to maintain real world friendships are long gone. For some of us, this was true without even adding kids to the equation, which was weird because of the constant doody talk.
Early along, my husband and I figured something out -- these baby humans will be older one day, and maybe they'll even be fun to hang out with. Why not train them to like the things we like so they'll do them with us now that we don't have any friends? It's like the Bible says, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." Yes, the writer of this verse (God?) probably meant "Teach your kids to love God (me?) and they will always love God (me?)" but there's no reason you can't apply the same principle to making your kids take up your stupid hobbies with you.
For our family, that means my daughters watch musicals and do Pinterest crafts with me and my son plays music with his dad. Or the girls play Minecraft with dad and I sulk, because what's so great about digitized LEGOs? If I wanted to spend the rest of my life marveling at pretend worlds THAT LOOK TERRIBLE, I would have stuck with the Star Wars movies. The point is that raising a family takes forever, and you're going to need some shared interests to pass the time if you don't want to go bananas. Hey, if your thing is playing Barbies and Hot Wheels and intentionally losing Candyland after an hour of gameplay, then young children are probably a blast for you. If not, don't feel bad about your parenting skills. It's them, not you. And know your kids are going to be way more fun in a few years.
Obviously, if your hobbies include doing the molly drug at the dancing clubs, it's probably best to leave your kids out of the picture.
Competitive Parents Are in for a Weird Surprise
For anyone who has a competitive streak, there's a whole new dimension of strangeness that comes with raising older children. Before I get to it, let's set up the background. For some of us, having a normal adult conversation includes resisting the urge to top everything the other person says. If "Congratulations on your baby" and "I just had a baby 10 years ago, but mine came out of my mouth" come out in the same breath, guess what? You're a topper, and maybe a liar. It's OK. I top people too. Let's make a deal to work on it.
Now, as a new parent, this competitive streak is first going to manifest itself by you measuring up your own babies to other people's babies. Which infant is hitting their milestones first? Who's rolling over and who's lazy and worthless? How many times have you heard someone say "I didn't talk until I was 3, but I immediately spoke in complete sentences"? The only reason they know that is because their mama freaked out that she had a late talker, so she added some spicy compensation to the story. "I hungry" is technically a complete sentence, but that doesn't mean you should be proud of it. I know all about this because for some ungodly reason none of my kids started walking until they were exactly 15 months old, which is 72 in baby years. Have you ever seen a 15-month-old kid still crawling when his peers are already parkouring around them? "Take Me Down to Humiliation City" is the song I wrote about it.
That was a joke for my 14-year-old. Go do your homework, Mr. Harrison!
Once you get past the "How does my kid stack up to your kid on a literal level?" stage, something new happens. You might find yourself asking another question: "How does my kid stack up to me?" Get yourself psychologically prepared for the day you end up on the losing end of that equation. Moms, one day your little girl is going to be the teenage knockout who turns the heads you used to turn, and don't think for one second you won't notice the shift in energy. Dads, your little goofball who currently wears underwear with cartoon figures on the one side and unwashable stains on the other side might one day walk up on stage and blow a room away with his guitar. Or maybe your kid goes further in his or her athletic career than you ever could, or is funnier than you, or is more charming than you. The same competitive spirit that compels you to constantly compare yourself to your peers is going to rear itself when you figure out you've been out-personed by your children. Surprise! Raising older kids gives you a whole new way to be terrible!
"If you'd just stop being pretty, we wouldn't have a problem, MaKenna!"
This also explains in-law tension and how some multigenerational holiday get-togethers often end in yelling or angry silence before the pumpkin pie even comes out. Go to an office party, and everyone can keep their jealousies at a reasonable level. Get with family, and one-upmanship is part of the evening's entertainment. When does that nastiness start? Certainly not when your kids are still making knock-knock jokes that end in questions about the universe.
Welcome to the World of the Nameless
Maybe it's because I'm from the South or the 1880s, but when I was a kid, I was taught to speak to adults as "Miss or Mister First Name," if not "Ms. or Mr. Last Name." So my Sunday school teacher was Miss Lulubelle Jean or something along those lines, which was nice, because it's jarring to hear an 8-year-old address a senior citizen like they're two equals shooting the breeze. If you're a little kid using an old man's first name, he better be your stepdaddy.
Jeff and Dakota, best friends 4-ever.
When you're raising older kids, there's a nebulous world of communication between you and your kids' friends. They will not know what to call you, so you exist as a hovering nameless ghost-mom there for rides home and pizza payments. "Miss Kristi" sounded appropriate when my kids' friends were tiny, but not from 6-foot-tall man-boys with man-voices. On the other hand, "Mrs. Harrison" is my mother-in-law's mother-in-law's mother-in-law. The phrase is so formal that you'd probably have to go back to colonial times to find anyone who wanted the moniker.
"My friends call me Kristi, but you can call me DJ Lipliner."
In the end, I'm guessing most of my kids' friends probably don't know my name at all, even after eating my food and staying in my house and imposing on my mental sanctity. Which is fine, because it's kind of Zen not having a name. Maybe I can convince them to call me Rumpelstiltskin one day.
It's You Against Them (Kinda)
Here's your end game as a parent: to turn the little person you're raising into a self-sufficient, well-adjusted adult who is nice to be around. That's the prize, even if it takes 40 years to get there. And to make it to the finish line in one piece, you might want to think of parenting as "you against them." You, as in you and your husband/wife/partner/ex against your teens.
Put the gun away and let me explain myself. You, your kids, your extended family, and whoever else is gracious enough to help you raise your children are on the same team. Whether your child is a 3-year-old kid working on potty training or a 30-year-old heroin addict who has robbed you blind for half his life, you're all playing for Team Raise This Kid into a Healthy Adult, RTKIAHA for short. That's the deal you took on when you were too lazy to get your birth control prescription renewed and accidentally started making babies at age 22.
"18 years, 18 years. I got you for 18 years."
But being on the same team does not make you and your kids equals in the co-monarchy that is your household. More importantly, if you're lucky enough to have a partner helping you raise your kids, that relationship should be protected like the Crown Jewels of England. You're going to need each other like meth needs Idaho, because assuming your partner is not an abusive, toxic individual, YOU DO NOT WANT TO RAISE TEENS ALONE.
Do you want a quick list why? Porn filters, puberty talks, and constant deodorant checks. You've got to stalk multiple social media profiles, including kids you've never met, because you want to make sure your children aren't hanging out with creeps. Keeping up with homework will be your second or third job. Each teen will have something they're into, which is great, except you've got to get them to that thing, which translates into hours in the car every week. Week after week. Year after year, until they can drive, which I assume is a whole new set of anxieties. I'll tell you when we get there in 15 years.
Don't get me wrong: Babies are exhausting. I wouldn't go back to the days of raising human puppies for anything less than a thousand dollars, and more on that in a minute. But babies can't get knocked up or addicted to huffing glue. They might slam a door or two if their little baby arms are really strong, but they're not emotionally manipulative or hormonal like teens and tweens. This is why, if you're lucky enough to have help, you need to work hard to keep that help happy. You and your spouse should be a citadel of unity against your kids when they're at their most emotionally exhausting.
You Finally Get to Breathe Again
Reading the entry above, young parents might be tempted to drop off their toddlers at the nearest dumpster and hope for the best. But don't! Because I have some great news. Younger kids are exhausting because they are manic balls of energy who require constant attention, supervision, and companionship. And as a parent, you are the cook, the butt wiper, the bather, the chauffeur, the nurse, the play date arranger, the maid, the one who nags about all of these things, plus 10 more at the end of the day.
Multiply this times three and you've pictured my 1999 through 2009.
One by one, those chores start to fall off your plate as your kids get older, hopefully starting with the butt wiping. Next duty off the list: bathing. One day your years of hovering over a bathtub trying to clean baby fat rolls, joking about how this toddler of yours is really the Marshmallow Man, are over. Another day, you wake up and realize your 10-year-old can cook her own meals and anyone else's if they ask nicely. Another day you realize play dates aren't a thing anymore. Most importantly, the days of swapping babysitting nights with friends so you can get a night out will one day be over. Your children can be their own babysitters.
Until you've been in the trenches tethered to your kids for years at a time, you have no idea how liberating it is when they're old enough to just be left alone for a while. You can go work out now. You can go out to dinner. You can go get groceries without a line of children following you like ducklings. MOVIES IN THE THEATER ARE AN OPTION FOR YOU. The only cinematic comparison I can think of is that moment in The Godfather when Michael Corleone takes his wife to Chuck E. Cheese's because he realizes no one needs him hovering over every little detail of the family business.
This is the parenting miracle that you can't fathom when there are still diapers in the house, and maybe the greatest miracle of all time, not including the miracle of giant animals that can play instruments and sing songs at Chuck E. Cheese's.
Kristi is a columnist and an editor for Cracked, and a mom who will be apologizing to her kids for writing about them. You can follow her on Twitter.