Some people think I am an experienced mother because I have six children. I am familiar with the early years. I am well versed (and opinionated) on topics like child birth, circumcision, vaccination, breastfeeding, diapers, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, discipline, and what to do with your placenta. I have triumphed over such challenges as labor and delivery, getting baby to sleep through the night, picky eating, and potty training. I am not an expert, but these baby-through-early-elementary years are familiar territory.
Just after Polar Bear's 13th birthday in October it became clear we had entered less familiar terrain. A new being has moved into our home, and we shall call him Grizzly Bear. Grizzly Bear's arrival has been complicated by my pregnancy and the death of my dad. Lord have mercy, it has not been pretty.
I knew there was going to be some rough terrain in the teen years. I knew there was going to be rebellion and hormones. I was concerned about those, but I figured I had dealt with overtired toddlers, spoiled actresses, and other people's teens. Well, dealing with that kind of angst is one thing. It is a totally different deal when your own flesh and blood that you birthed, bathed, loved and cherished has turned into a big snarling beast set on biting off your head while he tells you that you don't love him and never have.
Parenting a teen places your every behavior and personality trait under a magnifying glass. Every imperfect moment I have ever had in front of Polar Bear is now ammunition for Grizzly Bear to throw at me. Over the past few months, Grizzly Bear has complained that I am online too much, stay up too late, eat unhealthy foods, sleep in too late, watch "bad" TV shows, snap at him and his siblings, curse way more often than I should, treat him unfairly, and then there is the killer claim that I don't love him. Some of these are true faults and some are normal healthy things that are twisted as he views them through the fog of adolescence.
Grizzly Bear generally does not attack me to my face with these accusations, but instead goes to Hubby. Hubby has handled the situation surprisingly well. He calmly listens, agrees that I am not perfect and gently points out where Polar Bear has faltered in the situation. He then reminds this dear child that he is required to show me respect and honor my authority even when he thinks I do not deserve it.
I am grateful that I am not completely unequipped to navigate the teen years. I have friends with older children who have shared their own struggles and allowed me to learn from their mistakes and triumphs. Some friends have chosen to send their child to school during this season. I can see how that option has worked for some, but I know Polar Bear would feel like we were getting rid of him. Right now, more than at any time in his life, he needs his father and me to be steadfast in our love of him. So, we will continue homeschooling through high school as we had originally planned. However, Polar Bear is in the unique position of having his parents be his teachers and his youth leaders. He really needs a different set of adults to be authority figures in his life. A co-op class or two would give him that, so we will sign him up for one as soon as we are able.
We've always thought teenage boys have an excess amount of energy that has to be given a safe channel or it turns into anger. While sports can be a good channel for all that energy, it's not a good option for this child. We will be giving Polar Bear some more physical jobs around and outside the house. If we don't have enough physical jobs, we will have him help those who could use a hand.
We have to keep in mind that some rebellion is normal and healthy for a teen. Learning how to respectfully handle disagreements with authority figures is a necessary part of becoming an adult. We also must remember that there are a lot of great things about this kiddo. He is hard working, willing to serve, creative, mechanically savvy, and loves his siblings dearly. The sum total of his being is not just the rebellion and wild emotions we see now. We will try to accentuate those positives and remember to thank him for all his hard work.
We will not fight angry words with angry words. We know this child of ours has indeed been nurtured, fed, cared for and deeply loved since before he was born. We have no guilt there, so we will calmly and firmly assure him of the truth that we have always and will always love him, no matter what. We may find a private spot for him so he can retreat when all he has to share are angry words.
I know this child well. I have lived through all of his crazy stages and quirks so far and still I love him. I know this season will pass just like all the others have. The trick is to have an intact relationship when the next season starts. It's likely that Hubby and I will make mistakes and when we do, we will apologize and tell him how we should have acted or handled things. I've never thought that children should be left with the mistaken impression that their parents are perfect. I have always been honest with Polar Bear about my struggles and this won't be any different. We will pray together for help in fighting the crazy hormones, for wisdom, for peace, and for an extra dose of love when we are simply getting on each other's nerves. Lord willing, I will be even better equipped to handle this season when Cookie Monster enters it, then Strawberry, then Dinosaur, then Apple Blossom... Oh dear, I will have teens in this house for the next 20 years. Probably best not to think about that too much.