"You think things are hard now, just wait until he/she's a teenager!" Moms, raise your hands if someone's said this to you. Yeah, I'd say most of us have experienced this Dire Warning, and I have no idea why it's such a popular thing to say. It both diminishes your current troubles (and, fine, in the long run potty training might not register as a memorable challenge, but that doesn't change the fact that it sucks while you're going through it), and depresses you with the thought that your parental future is jammed with nothing but heartache and worry.
As someone who struggled a lot as a teenager, I've often assumed that the teen years are an inevitable nightmare for every parent. Why else would everyone warn you about how bad it's going to be, right? Well, my friend Miss Zoot has a different story to tell -- about the awesome, loving, friendly experience of parenting her 18-year-old son.
I promise, you'll want to read this.
I asked Kim, AKA Miss Zoot, to answer a few questions about being the mom of a teenager, and she was kind enough to indulge me. In addition to 18-year-old Eliah, Kim has a seven-year-old daughter, Nikki, and a four-year-old son, Wes. (And somehow she makes the time to run, like, ultramarathons. Kim is a rock star.)
Check out what she has to say about how not EVERY kid ends up being impossible to get along with when they hit the high school years -- and be sure to stick around to read Eliah's take. He's got some amazing advice for what to do if you're a mom fretting over that oh-so-dreaded teen stage.
Kim, what's your gut reaction when you hear people warn other parents about how bad the teen years are going to be?
My gut is that I'd take teen angst over toddler tantrum any day of the week! But, my more measured response is this: The lows are lower, but the highs are higher. Teen problems are much more life-altering, both in their personal development and in the relationship we - as parents - have with them. But the really good bonding moments I have with my teenager? Will stand much longer against the test of time. And they're more likely to inherently effect my own character. My 4-year old doesn't do much to change my world view, my teenager does.
Did you ever go through rough spots as your son approached teenhood when you weren't sure how things would turn out?
I learned early on that I could make myself crazy trying to predict how certain events and phases and actions on my part would affect who he was to become as an adult. You can really make yourself crazy and I always found I could see the potential of my actions ruining him in dozens of different ways. So, Yes! I did worry about how things would turn out! But then I realized that made me crazy and I just started taking it one step at a time.
Do you believe there's anything you did as a family that helped result in the positive relationship you have with your son and his friends now?
Yes. I made an effort to find shared interests. I kept my mind open to things he would suggest to me, whether they be movies or music or books. The things that stuck? Created bonds between us that would give us things to talk about, or get excited about together. (In case you don't remember from when you were a teenager, teens don't really initiate conversations with their parents.) He sends me links to stuff he thinks I like, and I do the same for him. I have an entire bookshelf on Goodreads of books he thinks I should read. There are plenty of things he likes that I do NOT connect with - TV especially, we don't have a lot of overlap in TV interests. But I made sure to keep trying and hold on to the things that we do share. This also gave us plenty of opportunities to have memorable adventures - like midnight book and movie releases, or out-of-town trips to see performances we both enjoy.
What advice would you give to a parent who's worried about raising a teenager?
Ignore everyone who says you "can't be their friend". Yes, you can. And you can also be their parent. My son and I bond over books and music and laugh about fun stuff we find on the internet. But, that doesn't prevent me from taking away his phone if his grades aren't good. Or grounding him for missing curfew. We've fought, we've gotten mad at each other, we've disappointed each other. Those parenting battles can create rifts in your relationship, no doubt. And the easiest way to keep a connection over those rifts? Is with the silly thing friends connect over. He'll forget he's mad at me for taking his phone if he finds out an author we both love has announced the title of their next book. I can look past his math grade for a moment if he comes to me with a movie he knows I'll love.
Eliah, how is it that you ended up sharing lots of the same interests as your mom?
My mom and I have a lot of the same interests because we’re both pretty bad at acting our own age. My mom reads more young adult novels than I do, and I watch Desperate Housewives every day when I get home
from school. In some ways, she’s a better teenager than I am. (I, however, am not a better adult than she. I mean, just look at my taste in TV.)
We bond over pretty much everything. That being said, there are still parts of our personalities that don’t overlap. I can go out to see awful gory movies with my friends, and she can have dinner parties with hers. I love that she's the mom that stalks YouTubers with me, and the one that I can discuss her latest book club book with. I think the fact that we give each other space sometimes makes our relationship so awesome.
Do you feel like you have a better relationship with your mom than other kids you know?
This is a hard question to answer, because pretty much all of my friends have super awesome moms. I guess the only thing these moms have in common is that they’re all friends with my mom. The cool moms always stick together. Oh, and they always buy their kids’ friends lots of Starbucks. That’s just as important too.
What’s the most embarrassing thing your mom has ever done?
I don’t think my mom has ever done anything embarrassing before. The closest act of embarrassment committed by my mom that I can think of was probably when she screamed at the top of her lungs during my final bow for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And that wasn’t embarrassing at all. That was awesome.
(Note from Kim: He has learned, having me for a Mom, to have a VERY HIGH tolerance for embarrassment. Seriously. Many kids would find many of my actions humiliating, he has obviously lost all ability to rationally judge "embarrassing" because I'm just always acting a fool.)
What would you say to a mom of a younger child who’s fretting about the teen years?
I would tell said mother to never forget what it was like when she was said child’s age. Mostly to remember how much it sucked to be a teenager. Remember how rushed and hectic life seemed, and how, when you’re in high school, everything is a gigantic deal. Remember what it was like to have a teacher sent straight from the fiery depths of Hell, and remember how much weekends meant to you. Remember how much pressure you felt from everyone around you, and how every decision you made felt like it could be the one that led to you working at a fast food restaurant in your 40s. After you’ve done all of this, then, and only then, are you allowed to beat them. (Just kidding. That’s illegal.)
Have you made it through the teen parenting years and lived to tell the tale? What encouraging words do you have to combat the "JUST YOU WAIT" warnings?
Image courtesy of Miss Zoot