When the nurse handed me my son after delivery, I panicked. I felt my heart start to race, my hands started to shake and I could feel sweat forming on my forehead.
“Am I holding him the right way? What if I don’t know what he needs? What if I screw him up?” I looked at the kindly nurse as if she’d be able to magically answer my frantic questions.
She smiled and said, “I’ll tell you what I tell all of my new moms: if you screw up, just try again. You’ll get it right eventually.” After she helped me adjust my infant in my arms, she winked and left me to get to know him.
And I did.
I learned the sound of his “hungry cry” and his “I need a diaper change” cry. But not before suffering through night after night of trouble shooting and paging through every baby book in my arsenal as he screamed until he was purple in the face.
I learned how to make his rice cereal just the right consistency so that it didn’t wind up on his bib. But not before rushing him to the doctor several times because I was afraid he wasn’t gaining weight.
I learned to recognize that my son needed to rock for a half an hour before he could settle down to sleep and that he always needed his special stuffed caterpillar next to him. But not before spending four solid months in a sleep deprived stupor before I finally caught on to what his cries were telling me.
And that’s how it’s been for me and my first-born since the day we met in that hospital room fifteen years ago.
Together, we’ve faced the firsts of childhood and I’m certain I screwed some of it up along the way.
He’s my firstborn.
The one who made me a parent.
The one who has seen my mothering highs and he’s been the one to witness firsthand my mothering lows.
On a run with a friend recently, we both lamented that we feel sorry for our firstborn sons because they are our guinea pigs. Our parenting experiments, if you will. Our firstborn children are doomed to have to suffer through our inability to understand Snapchat and our propensity to yell too loudly when we are in the passenger seat as they drive.
Every day, it seems a new situation arises that forces us to have to make a split second decision, much in the same way we wrestled with whether or not to enforce time outs or to finally take that pacifier away.
Only now, it feels more urgent.
Because we are raising our teens to leave us, sooner than we’d like to admit.
When our kids are toddlers, we have the gift of time on our side.
We can forgive ourselves more easily because we can tell ourselves that they won’t remember that their first birthday party had a cake that was burned on three sides. We can laugh off the times when we’ve forgotten appointments or play dates.
But with teens, every parenting decision feels more important. More permanent and written in stone.
Should he take AP classes?
What age should we let him have a cell phone?
How can I impress upon him that cell phone data doesn’t grow on trees?
Will he permanently scarred if I go back to work and leave him alone in the afternoons as you chase my old career?
So many “what ifs” are staring me in the face as I parent my teens and it feels overwhelming.
I worry every day that I’m not doing enough to raise responsible humans who will be courteous to roommates and who will remember to file their taxes every year.
Some nights, I lie in bed and replay an argument with my teens over cleaning up the dinner dishes or declaring my son’s room a toxic waste dump and I think of all the ways I could have approached the situation differently. I mean, I speak the truth when I say my son’s room is unfit for humans most days but I chastise myself for letting the little things get to me when it comes to raising my kids.
I worry that I am being too strict or too lenient.
I worry that I am not letting them forge their own paths in favor of pushing them towards the activities and experiences I loved when I was their age.
I worry that I will never understand Snapchat.
I worry they’ll leave my home without a firm understanding of how to separate colors from the whites, make our family’s traditional Thanksgiving gravy or how to drive a manual transmission.
But, mostly, I worry that I will miss the chance to impress upon them how much I want to parent them just right.
I don’t want to screw up parenting my teens.
Because they deserve a mother who gets it right for them, at least eventually, one mistake at a time.
But, on the nights when the voice of doubt starts to whisper too loudly in my ear and threatens to undermine my confidence as a parent of teens, I think back to what that kind nurse said to me so many years ago.
“If you screw up, just try again. You’ll get it right eventually.”
Just keep trying with your teens, Moms and Dads.
You’ll get it right eventually.
You’ve been doing it from the start.