The truth is that my daughter can be a real jerk sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I love her dearly, even when she is a tool. I must face the reality that teens are harder than toddlers to raise.
Once we got out of the baby phase and into the toddler years, I aimed to raise independent, self-sufficient, moral children. I aimed to be a mom to my girls, not a friend. This parenting plan meant I always knew my girls would grow up someday to say, “I hate you.” In some strange way, I strove for that moment. If my daughter is mad enough to say she “hates” me, I parented the right way.
I also expected my kids to tell me, “You are not my mother.” I’ve been steeling myself for this since I brought them home as small infants. Both of my girls are adopted, which exponentially increased my parenting challenges.
Through research and experience, I learned that the emotional fragility of my girls stems from a permanently broken heart, the direct result of not being with their birth moms. I also knew that my girls were more prone to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that would make the teen years, in particular, harder for us all.
In my attempt to honor their personalities and unique emotional needs, I may have been a bit too forgiving over the years, letting them get away with more than I intended. I tried to hold strong, be consistent and enforce the family rules. However, I imagine I caved to their moods more than I’d like to admit.
Let’s face it, parenting teens is hard. I think it’s harder than raising toddlers.
When parenting a toddler, it seems folks emerge from the woodwork to hand out advice on how to raise the tot. Grandparents criticize alongside strange old people in the grocery store who think your child is cold and underfed even though it’s 90 degrees outside and they are currently eating a banana they plucked from the free fruit bin. It is free, right? An army of parents at the playground, daycare, and playgroups happily share tips and information on parenting choices.
As kids morph into teens, the once concerned old people think they are rude and scary because they have blue hair extensions and piercings. Daycares stop taking kids once they reach middle school. Daycare workers don’t know what to do with them either. Who ever heard of a playgroup for teens? People look at you funny when you show up with a 5’ 7” young adult and push them on the swings at the playground. Help and advice for raising teens are scarce.
Even my friends, who have kids the same age as mine, no longer share stories or advice. Is it because they feel talking about their kid violates a line of trust we did not recognize when they were too young to know we were talking about them? I try to share funny stories about things my teens do, but they aren’t as well received as when I told stories about the same girls twelve years ago. The truth is, I still need help. I still need to vent. I still need to know I’m not alone. I still need to learn from other parents’ actions in similar situations.
Parenting teens is a lonely business.
Fortunately, our pediatrician has always been there for us. Each year when we bring the kids to see her for their annual check-up, she goes beyond the typical quick health exam. She dives deep.
On our last visit, things got very real. My sixteen-year-old daughter, a strong independent woman, has trouble accepting that she’s not always right; she has more to learn, and adults might possibly know more than she.
As usual, the pediatrician wanted to know about school, social life, extracurriculars, sex, etc. She offered advice and guidance. That’s when things got ugly. My teen did not gratefully accept her mentorship. Where did the term “sweet sixteen” come from? I guarantee it was not from any mom.
Instead, my daughter’s ego interfered with her ability to listen to the sage advice from her pediatrician. My daughter treated her doctor to her best defiant toddler impersonation. Just like a parent of a toddler, I typically ignore these rare digressions, but the pediatrician wasn’t having any of it.
Our pediatrician, free from parental guilt and the need to protect my daughter’s supposed fragile heart, quickly recognized the disrespect and childishness on display. She called her out! There was no mincing of words. She boldly told my daughter to grow up! She called her rude and disrespectful. She made my daughter regret her words and actions.
She made my daughter accountable. She made my daughter cry. The pediatrician supported me. The pediatrician validated me. The pediatrician schooled me by schooling my kid. The pediatrician woke me up because I still had a lot of work to do.
She let me know she’s got my back. I wanted to hug her in gratitude.
We left the office, my daughter red-eyed, sniffling and seething, me gloating and scheming. In a surprise move, once we were in the safe cocoon of my car, my daughter chose to apologize to me. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Mom, I’m sorry for how I behaved there.” I stifled the sob of gratitude that welled in my throat and willed the tears pricking my eyes to disappear. I just let her words and real heartfelt apology wash over me.
Damn, that pediatrician is good. I chose to accept her apology. I also chose to acknowledge that my teen is tough.
My girl may have a soft heart, but all those toddler years in time-out made her more resilient than I realized. My pediatrician made me appreciate that while I need to honor and respect my child’s journey and her unique needs related to her adoption, I also need to recognize her resilience in the face of it all. I cannot let the guilt continue to influence my parenting. I need to let my goals for her future be the guiding light.
If only I could find a way to get her back in that Time-Out chair. I only have her for one more short year. We might need a few extra visits to the doctor. Just saying.
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Elizabeth Redhead Kriston is a mom, a certified Speech-Language Pathologist, and an author. Liz incorporates laughing and learning into everything she writes. Parenting and child development are the dominant themes in her blogs and her seven children’s books. When not working, you can find Liz in her banana yellow kayak floating on a lake or walking around her small rural hometown. Find Liz at www.redheadkriston.com, Instagram: @redheadkriston, Twitter: @redheadkriston, and Facebook.