I’m a Teen. I have a messy room. I spend all of my time on my phone. And I Care about One Person: Myself.
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We’re a blended family. And like many other blended families I’m sure, or any other family for that matter, we have problems. Problems seem a bit problematic, but “issues” is too general and overused for me. Problem is the proper verbiage here. My daughter is the product of my first, marriage which was an EPIC fail. And for a while, it was just the two of us. Then my husband (current) comes along. And things changed. And for a while, things were GREAT. But then sixth grade happened.
I’ve never been a mom of a teenager before. Think about that statement. As parents, it’s not possible to have had a child before, a toddler before, a pre-teen, a teenager, until you have EXPERIENCED it. Yes, people can tell you about it, try to prepare you for it, but until you’ve done it? You can’t possibly know how it feels to have a teenager. No matter how, adoption, insemination, surrogacy, auntie, uncle, no matter how you become a parent, it’s the same. You have to experience it, to KNOW IT. My daughter is 13. She’s my first one. I’m just now experiencing it.
It has Not Been Pretty
There was some magical switch. Yes, some imaginary switch that she turned on when I wasn’t looking, in the time from fifth grade to sixth. There were some hiccups in elementary school, and honestly, fifth grade was a little rough, but nothing could have prepared me for the transition from elementary to middle school. (Where I’m from elementary school is K-5, middle school 6th-8th). In elementary school, I dealt with bullying, but it was boys making fun of her because her head was too big. Or calling her “stupid.” Boys? She didn’t like them. And they didn’t like her. It was such a simpler time.
But then 6th grade came. Those boys (and girls), weren’t so undesirable. The “change” had occurred. (I mourned my child’s entrance into “womanhood” harder than she did). And now I had to deal with questions like: “Mom, what’s sex?” Actually not questions, but internet searches, that led to uncomfortable conversations. Whoever says talking to your kids about the birds and the bees is easy, has obviously never done it. Mom, I want to buy __ something for Valentine's Day?” HUH?
But all of these things I took in stride. It’s a natural part of growing up. Curiosity, Puberty happens. Your child will not stay young forever. I was somewhat prepared for this, having gone thru these things myself before. But then there came the attitude. A teenager’s attitude will make you question how you came to parent them in the first place. Will make you question if you know this person at all? Question all the good and bad decisions you’ve made in life and ponder if this was one of them? (Having a teenager).
Suddenly, the bright, cheery girl who wants to hang out with mom, is the sullen, sulking, dark clothes wearing teenager who only talks to you when she wants something. 6th grade was the catalyst, two grades later, 8th grade was the explosion.
My husband and I have two different parenting styles. I’m more of the let them learn from their mistakes type parent. As long as it’s not too extreme, I let my kids figure it out with my guidance and instruction. I don’t tolerate talking back, disrespect, lying, or bad grades. Everything else is pretty much up for discussion. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t tolerate ANYTHING. If a child drops a glass, it’s a bark. If a child is too loud, it’s a bark. If a child spills their food, it’s a bark. Flush the toilet, it’s a bark. Ok, that last one was an exaggeration, but you get the point. Sometimes I can be a little soft, sometimes he can be too hard, we oftentimes balance each other out.
But my daughter has THREE parents. My ex-husband is in the picture (somewhat). Ever since “that big bad awful thing that happened” (that’s how I refer to my daughter becoming a teenager), his laid back parenting style has become more active. But the thing is, I and my ex-husband are pretty similar in our approaches to parenting.
As long as you’re not doing any of the things I referenced earlier, we’re pretty cool. And one thing we DON’t do is discourage our daughter. We don’t patronize, we’re not condescending, and we don’t make any reference to her body image. I want my daughter to be happy with who she is, how she is, and what she is. PERIODT.
And I’m not saying my current husband does any of those things. But his parenting style is littered with them. If my daughter is celebrating a victory, say for instance “Mom, I got a 92 on my test,” my response is “great boo boo, I’m proud of you.” His? “Well, if you had dotted the I instead of the T, you would have gotten a 99.” Sigh. Or if she’s washing dishes: "if you had turned counter-clockwise instead of clockwise, you would have done it faster." And then there’s the weight. He doesn’t come out and comment on her weight outright, but there are backhanded references to it.
I Didn’t Know
I typically try to correct him when he’s being condescending and a jerk, (in private, as not to undermine him in front of my daughter). But I never realized the impact his conduct had on my daughter until she told me. Another thing you have to learn about a teenager? They do not open up or talk about their feelings. To try to get them to do it? Is like pulling teeth. It’s hard, and the aftereffect is PAINFUL. But she told me one day: “ I don’t like daddy.” I was shocked, but not surprised. So how’d I respond?
Talk, Talk, And Realize
First things first. Let’s talk about it. “He judges me.” He talks about my weight. Clarity please? Judge? See the aforementioned example with the grades. Ugh. Ok. I can see that. But WAIT, you’re weight. “Yeah, one time he told me I was too heavy to sit on the counter or my brother’s bed.” Ok. This may or may not have been the case, but I can see where you may get that from. “And he’s just a jerk.” Ok, can’t refute that one.
But when you guys spend quality time, do you not like him then? Answer: No, that’s actually pretty cool. When we are all hanging out and everything is cool are you faking?: Answer: No. Ah, I see. So it’s not that you don’t LIKE him, it’s that you don’t like some of his ways. Typical Teen Answer: Blank stare and a shrug.
Now, I can’t say I handled this well, because honestly, I was a little pissed at what I perceived as inadvertent body shaming. I explained to my husband, why my daughter felt how she felt. But I LASHED out when I came to the weight part. I believe some of the things I said were “How dare you talk about a woman’s weight?” “You really are a jerk (insert other bad words here).” And “I wouldn’t like you either!” Admittedly that last one wasn’t fair, but when I’m mad I go for the jugular, I’m working on it in therapy.
In the end, he agreed to be more considerate of my daughter. I love her, but she’s EXTERMELY sensitive. And she’s at that weird age where she’s discovering who she is, and trying to love herself and her body. This isn’t the time to make any references to her weight. As far as being a condescending arse?
He apologized and realized that he too, had never had a teenager, he needed to do better. And a lot of his parenting ways, he realized as a result of the conversation, were a product of how he grew up. We both agreed that while there are many things we can learn from our parents and how they parented, there were a few things we could learn NOT to do as well. Barking at everything the children do? Is not one of them.
Better Days Ahead
My husband’s feelings are hurt. HE didn’t realize the impact his behavior had on my daughter, and the strong feelings of discontent they invoked. He also realizes that as a result, I am a tad bit disappointed in him. But his feelings can only get hurt if, and because he cares. And that’s really all that matters. He cares. He listened. And we’re working to change the bad behaviors into better ones. Because no manual comes with children, and definitely not with teenagers. And that’s because every child is different, and you need to make sure you do what’s best for your child. And sometimes, that happens when you listen to them. And to do that you have to have a healthy relationship with them. What you do and say, inadvertently and advertently MATTERS.
Being a parent is like a science experiment with no control. There’s a hypothesis: “I think I’ll be a good parent.” A LOT of trial and error: see infant, toddlerdom, pre-teen and teenage years, and an inevitable outcome: hopefully a fully functioning, self-loving, intelligent, decent human being. And your kids will sometimes not like you, or you them. That’s life.