This post was prompted by three things: 1) a mom meltdown with my teens this morning, 2) Joe Biden staying calm while Trump tried to dismantle his son’s reputation for not fitting the mould (of course he said way more than that but let’s use this expression for now), and 3) a parent teen brag post on Instagram (Please note: I do like a brag post, and don’t want you to take offense, and am even inclined to post the odd one myself).
I see everything through the lens of a parent of teenagers at the moment. And I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to all my friends who had older kids when mine were young, and also to my parents, for anything smug and self-congratulatory I said when my kids were younger. Equally, I’d like to apologise to all my friends who have babies or young kids right now, for maybe appearing a little disinterested or jaded when they start gushing about how grateful they are to be a parent, or moan about how tired and exhausted they are because of their little kids. As my mum always says, “little kids – little problems, big kids – big problems”. I’m sorry if I don’t take your issues seriously. I win, I have teenagers. Dealing with teenage brains is the hardest part of parenting so far. In fact, S and I have complained so much to our childless friends that I’m pretty sure they won’t even consider starting a family. Let me tell you, sorting a problem with your teenager over the phone while at a party thrown by twenty and thirty-year-olds is a nice contraceptive.
Throw in the fact that we’re parenting solo, ie there are no grandparents, aunts and uncles anywhere near, and you get the picture. And with the pandemic putting a halt to easy international travel, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for us. All I can resort to these days is FaceTiming other parents of teenagers, and NONE of them are American parents. It’s one of those mysteries: I know for a fact that American teenagers go through the same crappy experiences, and are actually more depressed, anxious and issue-ridden than any other nation’s teens. However, their parents prefer not to talk about those issues, or God forbid, complain about their kids, to each other. That’s reserved for the numerous therapy sessions and psychiatry appointments. Nobody seems to use their friends to really vent to (or as a cheaper form of therapy). Even the usually more reserved Brits are happy to let rip when it comes to teenage uselessness. Instead, social media platforms here are filled with a steady stream of accolades, college acceptance celebrations, “Proud parent of a teenage entrepreneur” stickers on cars, and the like. You can complain about sleepless nights with a newborn, baby food vomit stains on your shirt, but not the sleepless nights when you wait for your teen to come home, or the vomit stains you wash out of sheets after a party. You can find help for new parents, postnatal depression, breastfeeding support, but where are the teenage parent support groups (no, AA doesn’t count)?!
No wonder I’m struggling to connect to fellow American parents (writing this article probably won’t help; I’m aware of that). I’ve always wondered why I can’t seem to get a foot in the door. My kids are not members of societies, haven’t started a business, don’t even take AP classes (yes, really, and I’m starting to get anxiety about that because I can feel myself getting sucked into the college application hamster wheel, and I don’t like it!!), and generally don’t fit into the crazy extracurricular world of the general American kid. Instead, they’re usually disgustingly lazy, self-centred, useless and ungrateful little shits that constantly fight with us parents over messy rooms, responsibilities, household chores, and have had me pack my bags a couple of times, ready to quit my job as a mother. And at the same time they’re battling immense hormonal fluctuations, severe mental health issues, just like so many of their classmates, and are generally trying to cope with the craziness that is this world.
They are unique, and I love them with all my heart. They are young, vulnerable human beings who are far from perfect, battling the increasingly insane expectations of this world. Trying to help them navigate those expectations without losing my shit, our parental minds and us as a couple in the process, is no mean feat. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way, and I wish I didn’t have to feel so lonely when I know I’m not.