Recently a friend, a brilliant, child prodigy grown up into adult genius friend, announced via social media that a teenager now lived at his house. He spoke the words with trepidation, perhaps even fear. A thirteen year old girl, it seems, has every ability to cripple even the brightest among us. Every parent of teens understands. We know the cold-blooded horror that can knock us to our knees when we consider the scary dark magic and sorcery that are the teen years.
I happen to have two of those mutants at my house. When my daughter was born at the turn of the millennium and my son followed eleven months later, my husband and I had two bone-chilling thoughts. First, they would be in college at the same time and we would be holding the tuition checkbook. Second, and almost immediately, we looked deeply into one another’s eyes and realized that we would be raising teens at the same time. We would be teaching driving, and dealing with snark, and thought to be complete idiots, and worry about rebellion for eight straight years with multiple children.
Before I head down the off-ramp of this post, it is important that you know that my kids are not perfect. They tell untruths. Nope, that is too cleaned up. They lie to us even though they get caught and the truth would be easier to tell. They are unkind to one another. They say things that cut painfully and push buttons with a sledgehammer. They are 100% teens with all the angst that entails.
And, they are at our favorite age so far. Hands down. We aren’t miracle workers or magicians, but we truly enjoy our children at fourteen and fifteen. And, here are our reasons.
1. They make us laugh.
Teenagers crave laughter—and ours are no exception. They bring us funny YouTube videos, share jokes that they hear, and are willing to be goofy to get a response. Our day is made better because of the shared giggles. Sometimes we have to smack their hands for the inappropriateness—but the chortles come later when we are away from the teenaged ears.
Humor is a big part of staying sane as we raise these two. Trash talk during inane video game tournaments (cow racing, anyone?), impressions of cartoon characters reading field trip permission slips, and groan-inducing puns pervade our lives. Of course, we found humor in the knock-knock jokes and the crazy sayings of their childhood, but the gift of raising teens is that their true sense of humor develops at exactly the moment that it saves their lives.
2. They are dorky and accept our dorkiness.
I love the times when our kids’ friends pile up in our living room. With teens, the only requirement is plenty of food. No need to rearrange the furniture to provide seats for everyone; they always end up piled up like Lincoln logs in one chair. By the way, the swap from plural to singular first person here is intentional. My amazing, patient, and fantastic husband becomes longsuffering the moment multiple teens walk into the house. Foolishness, for my ISTP truelove, has its limits.
Our daughter has a troupe of friends, “The Squadron” they call themselves. Recently, this amazing group of friends moved into the territory of rom-coms starring Meg Ryan, advice columns, and sitcoms involving a couch and Central Perk coffee. Yep, they began to split into couples. En masse, The Squadron headed out for Valentine’s Day. (This is kinda like watching a train wreck, isn’t it?) To a couple, they broke up within 48 hours with all the drama and anger and frustration of a death of romance. Fast forward to our living room, one week after Val Day and all of them are headed our way. This moment was a DefCon and required preparedness response. It begged for a movie where things blew up, harsh language was used, and a good Bruce Willis shot-in-the-arm. For us, it required Tom Clancy.
We knew we were going to be okay in real life as on-screen big, black Suburbans carried Morgan Freeman and other CIA-operatives through Siberia. “Why,” Squadron Leader 1 asked from her spot on the couch, “are they always Russian around?” “Well,” Squadron Leader 2 responded, “if you had Put-in the amount of work they have, you’d be in a hurry, too.” It got worse from there.
I was reminded that cool is over-rated. Dorkiness and cheesiness and bad puns and human pile ups and silliness and friendship will always win out over reserved swagger and detached bravado. No amount of popcorn and pizza would convince most adults to put their egos and hurt pride aside and just embrace the beauty of friendship. This group of friends did just that. Their lesson was not lost on me.
Nor was their advice. “Miss Sally,” Squadron Leader 5 said, “you would make a terrible CIA Operative. But, maybe they would let you be the diversion.”
3. They are going to change the world—and remind us to dream.
Our kids know with all the surety of the teen years that they will live amazing lives doing amazing things. They are dedicated to a mission on this earth that changes the world. No small pond will hold their big fish dreams of international mission work. No small living is acceptable.
There are folks who believe that our role as parents is to focus on our kids first and foremost. In no way do I want to belittle their thinking. That model works for their family. It doesn’t, however, work for ours. For us, the dreams that our children share are stoked by the dreams we feed in our own lives. We struggle and falter. We fail and regroup. We succumb to worry. Then we go back out into the world with our dreams of being the change we want to see firmly in place. Because our children are committed to improving the world and living out their divine purposes, we too are dreamers.
4. They don’t let us take ourselves—and our own angst—too seriously.
Once, in a fit of maternal rage, I barked orders to my children at a rapid pace and dared them to disagree. When I finished, I drew in a deep breath, adopted the timbre of the evil villain, and asked coldly, “Now. . . .do I understand myself?” It took about 20 seconds before I began to shake with laughter and soon my children were doing the same. It has become a catchphrase for those times when the world is tilting slightly to the chaotic side.
Don’t misunderstand. Our children are well aware of our expectations—and know that disrespect won’t be tolerated. We are not friends with our children. We love their future spouses, whoever they may be, way too much to let them get by with less than their best. We also know that our children remind us to not take ourselves too seriously. They point out our lapses in brain function. Because they live in the moment, they invite us to do the same. Past failures and future worries rarely exist in the teenage vocabulary. They remind us that being present matters—and to let go of the burdens we’ve carried too long. Besides, another hill on the roller coaster of parenting will strike within the next ten minutes. If we’re not living in the present, the hairpin turns will give us whiplash.
5. They remind us what matters—and make us defend our decisions.
Parenting can easily slip into constant battling with teens. It’s crucial that we choose our non-negotiable stances carefully. In our house, lying and disrespect are not tolerated. We value both teamwork and giving your best effort.
Because both of our children are super sharp arbitrators with keen legal minds and razor sharp sense of fairness, much negotiation is required. It is through these negotiations that we truly come to who we are as a family. Although WHY can make us crazy, it also makes us more sure of what we are saying.
Teen: Why can’t I go out with friends after church?
Parent: Because we value our comfort meal Sunday time as a family. It allows us to honor and celebrate each person on their chosen meal day. It gives us time to sit down together and it means a real meal is served.
At that point, conversation continued surrounding preserving what mattered with the meal and negotiating ways to include friends. In the end, everything stayed just as it was.
It is a gift to dig into what we value as individuals and as a family. Our teens provide us with reasons that we must do just that. Why does that matter? Because I said so!
Raising teens is not for the faint-hearted. It has been, however, our favorite part of our children’s lives. We are better people because of our teens, their friends, and their dreams. They make us a stronger couple. Why? Because we are in the foxhole together. They give us practice with loving unconditionally—and creative ways to set the wireless password when they are grounded. So far, cleanyourroomz, Areyoukiddingme, and pantsafire have been our favorites to reveal when punishments have ended. There are days when we don’t know that we’ll make it—and we’re definitely not positive that they will. We are, however, in it together. Not just as a couple, but with all the people “in the stands” for our teens cheering them on toward adulthood.
There are countless books and blogs about parenting. There is great advice on toddlers and school-age fears and issues. There are fewer blogs about the teen years. Some of the void comes from shell-shocked survival. Some of it is unwillingness to put on paper our kids at their weakest moments. This lack feels, all too often, like wishing years away. Like wanting to set our kids aside from age 11 to age 20 and get them back with full executive brain function. Doing that means missing the lessons they have to teach. It also means missing the laughs—with them, at them, and at ourselves as we raise them.