My daughter is the mother of a toddler, my first grandson. I am fortunate to reside only two hours away and visit frequently. On the playground, she has introduced me to many of her friends with similarly aged children. A clutch of mothers, we watch the toddlers circle each other, babbling in earnest at the wonders around them, or perhaps complaining about that morning’s breakfast. Who’s to know?
Sparks of rebellion are evident even at their tender age. Refusal to leave the swings. Adamancy about not sharing a cookie. No, not a cookie. Not in this neighborhood. An organic pressed rice cake.
I find it interesting that the one question I am most frequently asked by these young mothers is how to survive their children’s adolescence, even though it is more than a dozen years away. They ask with expressions of fear and dread. The volumes of scholarly advice weighing down their smart bookshelves pales next to actual experience. I sense it is a question they have wanted to ask their own mothers.
I am certain they are remembering their own teenage years, memories heavily laden with guilt. The dishonesty about where they actually were and who was really at the party. The sampling of, or devotion to, substances they knew would draw their parents’ ire. Their parents’ blissful ignorance.
A dark tunnel in the middle of their children’s formative years, they wonder what will emerge from it. They justify that they themselves came through relatively unscathed, but, oh, those close calls.
Now, as they see tiny feet stomp at being denied another turn on the slide, and refusals to nap in spite of their and their mothers’ exhaustion, they wonder how they will survive those most dangerous years without losing their collective parental minds.
I tell them to do the work now. That if their son or daughter enters the gates of adolescence knowing they are loved and obtained a measure of resilience during the challenges of childhood and puberty, they would likely return to them as young adults with a renewed sense of civility to others and an assured place as a citizen in the world. They nod at the advice, an internal calculator ticking through the bedtime stories, the play dates, the applause at each accomplishment, the hugs.
Parenting adolescents is difficult, no news there. My daughter, now an amazing mother, went radio silent at age twelve and didn’t speak to me again until she was sixteen. Imagine the nights of anguish in those long years, second-guessing every comment or admonition. I forced myself to hug her every time I saw her, even when what I really wanted to do was smack the smirk off her face. No, I never did that. Hitting children makes angry children, and the child you miss desperately and want back won’t return after the dark days.
So I said this to those nervous young mothers: Hold your breath. Stay available. Be vigilant. Pick your battles. Snoop when you need to. Commiserate with your friends. And drink lots and lots of wine.
Any other advice to add?
No post next week. Wishing everyone safe travels and a wonderful Thanksgiving.