I remember when I was a teenager and I believed my mother didn't understand a thing about me. It seemed like she was so much older than me (decades upon decades, at least), and I was forever frustrated by how we were such entirely different people. Her younger years were nothing like my own, I was convinced of it. She had no idea what I was going through.
Now, of course, I realize what a confused, angry, mixed-up, total pain in the ass I was back then. I also realize my mother was the same age when she had me as I was when I had my first child. I suppose it's possible that I'll reach a similar impasse with my own children someday, and if that happens, I hope it will help for them to know how utterly imperfect I was. How I will always remember what a difficult time it was to be a teen, and how—hopefully—they don't need to feel as though we are so very different.
To my teenage children:
If you feel lost and unhappy and hopeless, I felt that way too. The teen years are harder for some than others, and I had a particularly crappy time of it. I hated school, I hated myself, I hated everything. I wore black and dyed my hair so my exterior felt more like my interior; I got in trouble and generally acted out in a variety of unpleasant ways. I felt like a misfit, and I felt alone. I never realized how many other kids felt exactly as screwed-up and confused and out of place as I did.
If you feel like school is a waste of time, I felt that way too. If you end up hating school, I will be so incredibly sad. I will feel I have failed in something I want for you, very badly. But here is where I will not budge: we will figure out a way for you to get through it, no matter what it takes. I dropped out of high school in 10th grade, and the ensuing mess of getting a GED and taking remedial community college classes and eventually becoming an adult who can't identify with anyone else's high school experience (prom? WHAT prom?)—well, it's not worth it. Sometimes things suck, and you have to do them anyway. But never mistake my unwillingness to compromise your success for my inability to understand how it feels to want to quit.
If you feel like getting high, I felt that way too. I hope I have many years to figure out how we will deal with this if it ever becomes an issue, but one thing we will definitely talk about is how I went from a young person who loved to try everything to an adult person who had no control when it comes to consumption. Alcohol was my drug of choice, but it could just have easily been something else, and it damn near ruined my life. We'll talk about that, and I will be honest with you, and I hope you will listen.
If you feel like giving up, I felt that way too. I still have the scars on my arms and the memory of a tube down my throat. I cannot imagine what my mother must have felt like during that time, but I am certain that even though it happened 22 years ago, she still bears scars of her own. I don't know why I was so convinced I couldn't talk to her—that she wouldn't understand, that she couldn't help—but it is my greatest desire that you never feel the same way. From the moment you were born, I would do anything for you. That will never change. No matter how many years go by, that is one thing that will never, ever change.
Image via Linda Sharps