Welcome, newbie parents, welcome to the parenting club. What I’m thinking about this month might not provide you with much in the way of practical advice about raising your little one. I’m writing from a place much further down the road than your world of diapers and sleepless nights. But we are on the same journey, you and I, one that’s as full of discovery at this end of the continuum, in the teen years, as it is at yours.
As you hold that delicious little bundle in your arms, it’s probably hard to fathom being so needed by another. I remember feeling a bit frightened by that reality at first. What if I’m not up to the task, I would ask myself. What if I don’t have what it is my child needs to grow up healthy and strong. But what you discover as a parent is how boundless love is, how it shapes you and teaches you about what it means to truly care for another. I am reminded of that even as I slog through the teen years, a time when your child needs you less (and despises, at times, needing you at all). In love, you must learn to honor their desire for space and independence, yet be available when they come to you, confused and hurting. It’s not as easy as it was when he was young, but I’m learning.
Recently, in hopes of sharing some family time, I rented the TV series Freaks and Geeks, a comedy/drama about kids in high school. It was a small attempt to bridge the divide that yawns between a mother of a certain age and her soon-to-be 16-year-old. I should warn you, once your kids enter high school, spending time together begins to feel more like feeding vegetables to a toddler who really hates vegetables. As a parent, you know they’re good for him, but since he’s resistant, you must figure out clever ways to sneak them into his diet. Like it or not, I still want face time with you, my son. Hence, the DVD.
Freaks and Geeks is a clever show about brainiacs and slackers and how they navigate the pitfalls of high school. As a teen, it seemed like a topic he’d relate to. So we sat down to watch it one night after supper. Well, let me rephrase that. I watched it; my son sort of multitasked. He was texting and listening to his iPod, while glancing up on occasion to talk back to the television. “God, Mom, this must have been like, from your time or something. That’s SOOO not the way it is in high school today.”
Sigh. Needless to say, I watched the remaining episodes alone. (Trust me, this was far more relaxing). In fact, I found myself coming away feeling surprisingly refreshed.
For here were parents who actually resembled me. They weren’t bumbling, hipster parents, but rather, grown-ups who understood that the world they inhabited was distinctly different from that of their children. They didn’t feel a need to apologize or try to dumb down their existence. They even occasionally looked silly but didn’t shirk that either. They were parents trying to do their job, trying to relate to their children the best that they could while instilling in them the values they deemed necessary to navigate the journey towards adulthood. Wow, I thought, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen people like these on television. And oddly, it made me feel better.
I won’t sugarcoat the truth; the teen years can be a perplexing, trying time. My son and I travel in and out of each other’s orbits these days. We do manage to enjoy some time together but just as often we clash. When the going gets rough and he’s on my last nerve, I find myself wishing we could go back to those delicious baby years, when the world was simpler and sweet.
The bottom line is this: kids don’t come with a manual, parenting is more of a learn-as-you-go proposition. But you’ll grow. You’ll learn about patience and forgiveness, limits and fortitude. You’ll learn that the only certainty in life is the promise of change, as your child matures and grows. You’ll also find that if you stay the same as a parent, never to be tested or modified, then you run the risk of becoming obsolete. Parenthood requires just the opposite, I think, a suppleness that gives us the strength to stand up to the strong winds of change but the ability to bend while remaining firmly rooted and strong. So welcome to the club, newbie parents — here’s to your journey. The wonder years have just begun.