This week my youngest turns 13. He’s my third child to enter the teenage years, dropping the dependence of childhood like a coat that chafes at the collar and strains at the seams. With only a few glances back, he’ll race ahead, anxious to reach adulthood, independence and an unknown future.
It’s an exciting time. So please don’t offer me condolences.
Don’t look at me with wide, horrified eyes while whispering the word “teenager” as if it weren’t suitable for small, listening ears.
Don’t groan and shake your head, then recount a cautionary tale about your teen, your neighbor’s teen or a teen you read about in the paper.
Don’t issue warnings as if you were a flight attendant preparing the cabin for turbulence. “Buckle your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy seven-year ride. Just you wait.”
Maybe it is. Or maybe not.
I’ve heard similar admonitions before.
“Just you wait. Marriage isn’t all love and roses.”
“Just you wait. Babies don’t sleep through the night.”
“Just you wait, for the teething, the tantrums, the puking, the back-talking, the staying up all night waiting for them to come home.”
The admonitions of impending doom are endless if you listen, especially if you have a teenager.
Everyone has a horror story of survival, it seems. They’re as common as labor and delivery anecdotes, but with gory details that span years rather than hours. Spare me.
Yes, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. That’s called life, with or without teenagers under the roof.
I don’t mean to sugarcoat the challenges of parenting teens, or pretend there won’t be times of worry, tears, anger and frustration. This is my third teen and I remember being a teen myself. The water under the bridge hasn’t all been smooth.
But challenges shouldn’t steal the anticipation and joy that comes with having a teen in the house. Instead of condolences, here’s what I’d offer to myself and any parent approaching the teen years.
“Teenager” isn’t a curse word. Yes, some teens expand and test their vocabularies with colorful language they could barely reference with single letters just a few years earlier. But they’re also expanding and testing their intellect, ability to reason and sense of humor.
Just you wait, to become the student rather than the teacher, to have your teen know more than you about a subject, in depth and beautiful detail. Prepare to be fascinated by things you never thought you’d learn but do, because your teen finds it interesting.
Just you wait, for thoughtful conversations about politics, religion and morality. Teens are watching, listening and learning but they aren’t waiting to be spoon fed an opinion about anything. They’re figuring it out for themselves, which is thought-provoking and inspiring. It’s worth listening to their ideas and perspectives.
Just you wait, for your teen to “get” the jokes that used to go over their heads. Whether you’re watching a movie, talking over dinner or driving in the car, you’ll have opportunity to laugh long and loud together. It’s a new connection that feels like they figured out the password to get into the clubhouse and they are welcome.
Just you wait, to be seen as a person and not just a parent. Yes, they may suddenly see your imperfections in magnified detail and find you embarrassing. But they’ll also notice your successes and failures with perceptive eyes. They’ll see you struggle and offer to help. They’ll express appreciation for things they used to take for granted. Sometimes they’ll even ask for advice.
Day-to-day life with a teen has its perks, as well.
Just you wait, for the free labor. Teens are big and strong enough to pitch in as well as an adult, whether they’re mowing the lawn, carrying in groceries or moving a sofa.
Just you wait, for the freedom. You can leave them home for hours on end while rediscovering hobbies and passions. They can dress themselves, feed themselves and entertain themselves quite well without you. And you can do the same without them.
The teenage years build independence, for the teen and for the parents.
Yes, this can be bittersweet, especially since it’s my last child entering the teenage years. Of course I’m wistful for the unfiltered exuberance and hugs that came without censor, no matter who was watching. There are many things I miss about having a baby, toddler or child at home. But not enough to miss the fun that’s still to come.
Just like my son, I’m looking forward to his teenage years.
This column originally appeared Aug 16, 2014 in The Spokesman Review.