With all of my kids now middle school age or older, I really thought that I’d made it through the toughest part of parenting. I mean, once you’ve survived the sleepless nights of infancy, toilet training, and fishing Lego bricks out of a child’s nose (twice), the rest should be easy, right?
You see, I have a teenager. Easy doesn’t exist in my world.
Thank you, I do appreciate the condolences.
I wish someone would have told me what a challenge it would be sharing a home with a teen boy. That way, I could have sold him to the circus while I had the chance as my parents used to threaten to do with me. Once our formerly adorable cherubs spend a couple of years sprinkled in Puberty Dust, they morph into moody fast-growing aliens with cell phones. Strategies that used to work for us are now ineffective, making every encounter with these mysterious new creatures feel as if it could be taken from a chapter of Inept Parenting 101.
For instance, when your children are young, the word “No” means that an activity, however much fun it is for them, is not allowed. When your kids become teenagers, though, the word “No” magically transforms into meaning continue that activity for as long as possible, in every waking moment, until you’re certain you’ve driven your parents out of their ever-loving minds. Then do it some more.
Of course, the best action when dealing with a stubborn young adult is to ignore the excruciatingly awful behavior until the teen tires of it on his own. Successfully implementing this parenting approach, however, requires extreme patience, or in its absence, a plentiful supply of top shelf Tequila.
Parenting teenagers is definitely not for sissies.
Even if you have a strong fortitude and a will of steel, there’s one complication of adolescence that will outwit you every single time: dating. I have all sons and learned early on that girls are like kryptonite to the parents of teenage boys. As soon as a girl enters your teenage son’s life, your influence over your child evaporates. You are immediately stripped of your parental powers and rendered defenseless.
To make the entire dating issue even worse, my middle son has a thing for dark, dismal, depressed girls. The more dysfunction and drama surrounding them, the more attracted he is to them. Even when these relationships end badly with his heart broken into a million tortured pieces, he will quickly pull himself together and search for a new emo girlfriend.
For those of you whose children are still at the innocent cherub stage and are therefore unfamiliar with the term, the word “emo” refers to emotionally needy teens who not only fail to see the glass as half-full, they’re unable to see the glass at all. In fact, they don’t believe that anyone has ever given them a glass in the first place, and you cannot possibly convince them otherwise.
My husband has a cousin who’s been married three different times. Each time, he married a woman named Carol. We would often joke that in order to marry so many women with the same name, he must walk into bars and announce, “Anyone here named Carol? Oh, you are? Great! Let’s get married.”
Middle Son is just like him, choosing the exact same type of girl time after time. In fact, his choice of girl is so predictable that I can imagine how their initial meeting unfolds:
The Girl: “Hi, my name is EmoGirl. I’m an emotional mess. I hate my life, I hate myself, and I cry about things a lot. My favorite color is Black except for summer time when I prefer Dark Black. I haven’t smiled since I was ten.”
Middle Son: “Same! Wanna go out?”
Because Middle Son’s last breakup was so painful, I suggested that he might want to take things at a slower pace this time and get to know the newest girl in his life as a friend before dating in person.
“But Mom, I already do know her!”
“Really? You know everything about her? How long have you known this girl?”
“We met on Friday in the stairwell at school. “
“You met her on Friday? As in Friday-three-days-ago-Friday? How can you possibly know all there is to know about this girl from only one encounter in the stairwell at school? ”
“We’ve been texting ever since. Besides, we dress the same and like the same music. In fact, we’re exactly the same. So, see? We know everything there is to know about one another.”
I didn’t know how to respond to him. I mean, there are socks in my drawer that I’ve known longer than three days but not long enough that I’ve gotten beyond their air of mystery. People are even more complicated. To truly know and understand another human being, you have to invest a lot of time. In my world, relationships are forged from many moments spent together, not from having the exact same backpack.
And then, just as it likes to do from time to time, my Commodore 64 computer of a brain unearthed a dusty old DOS file: a memory of my own ninth grade crush. He sat next to me in Algebra class and had no idea that I was alive. Still, I was convinced that he was The One because his appearance fit my ideals. I didn’t need to know him because I’d already created his perfect image in my mind.
Rather than trying to convince my son how he should proceed with this girl, I realized that sometimes the best we can do for our kids is to allow them the value of their own experience. Defining a relationship while in my forties is far different from how I would have defined it in my teens. Doesn’t my son deserve that same luxury of figuring things out even if doing so results in the same heartbreak that I experienced? Of course he does.
Tucking away my naïve 15-year-old self and gathering up my 40-something wits, I finally knew what to say to him, the only thing I could say:
“It sounds like the two of you have really connected with one another. I’m glad you’ve met someone at your new school who makes you so happy. When do I get to meet her?”
And that was how I learned to navigate my son’s latest adventure in EmoHarmony.com.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pour a stiff one and look up the phone number for the circus. Just in case.
**image created by Ryan Kern, 2011