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Raising A Teen While Keeping Your Sanity

Hold tight. It’s going to be a rough ride.

How do you say "I love you" to a teen? Take selfies with them! Photo credit: Courtesy of Julie and Ellie Shapiro

I had a dream last night that I became so enraged with my 13-year-old daughter, I woke up out of it in a startled sweat and wept.

I wish I knew exactly which real-life event traumatized me so much that I had to process it while I slept. But since I find most of my interactions with my daughter these days traumatizing, trying to pinpoint the exact one seemed like a moot point.

Raising a teenager is not for the faint of heart.

I know my daughter has no idea how hurtful her angst-fueled, tears-filled accusations of me not loving her, understanding her or caring about her actually are. And I remember spewing the same cruel assertions at my own mother when I was her age. I also remember there was NOTHING my mother could have said or done to make things better. Being a teenager sucked, I was suffering, and damn it, I was taking her down with me.

Karma is a bitch.

I used to be one of those smug parents who actually thought I had things under control. I prided myself for studying up—reading the advice of experts, sorting through the different behavioral theories and knowing exactly how to handle a 3-year-old’s tantrum in the middle of aisle seven at Target. But that was back in the days when there was nothing that couldn’t be solved with a cuddle and a kiss. Three-year-olds have very short memories. Teenagers hold a grudge like it’s their job—six weeks later, I’m still paying the price for accidentally throwing away a permission slip my daughter needed for an upcoming field trip. No matter that it was a crumpled up piece of paper left on the kitchen counter like trash.

“She is a bundle of contradictions—perfectly appropriate, according to the experts whose books I keep stacked on my nightstand, within arm’s reach for easy reference during desperate times and middle-of-the-night ruminating.”

This whole new stage of life has, on occasion, brought me to my knees. Sometimes her attitude is so venomous I don’t recognize her. Sometimes she’s so self-centered she literally doesn’t see her sister standing right in front of her and walks right into her, almost knocking her off her feet. But it’s not all terrible. While most interactions initiated by my daughter these days begin with “I really want…,” “I really need…,” or “But last week Dad promised…,” we still enjoy snuggling on the couch to watch Stranger Things or geeking out as we rap songs from Hamilton, off key but with matching passion. But there’s no denying that my daughter’s fluctuating moods set the trajectory for any given activity. And I find myself wincing at the slightest hint of confrontation and looking for subtle ways to not set her off.

Her pace is either frenetic or that of a snail, and as she moves through our home she often leaves behind a sludgy residue of crumbs on the computer keyboard, dirty socks on the living room floor, or, just yesterday, a used fork inside her math textbook. She is a bundle of contradictions—perfectly appropriate, according to the experts whose books I keep stacked on my nightstand, within arm’s reach for easy reference during desperate times and middle-of-the night ruminating. I’m supposed to exercise my iron will when she angrily states her point that EVERYONE uses this app or that platform on social media and I’m ruining her life. And not complain of whiplash when she turns around just moments later to hold my hand as she tells me a joke she heard at lunch, her smile lighting up that beautiful face.

Yup, that's a fork inside her textbook. Photo credit: Courtesy of Julie Shapiro

So for now, I will continue to take what my daughter throws my way (within reason) and remind her (when she lets me) of how much I do love her and want to understand her and deeply care about her. And that I will always be there for her. Even though most of the time her range of emotions spans from disinterest to outright contempt when it comes to me, her mother—the one who loves her more than life itself. I know she is working hard to figure out the world and her place in it. Adolescence is a long, hard, sometimes agonizing journey and I would do anything to take her pain away. I am baffled and scared of the intensity of her emotions, but I am by her side, no matter what. And I am hopeful that we will come out of this closer and stronger than ever.

At least she still likes to take pictures with mom! Photo credit: Courtesy of Julie Shapiro and Ellie Shapiro

I’ll continue to practice my deep breathing whenever we have a “discussion” that is painful and confusing—because if breathing techniques got me through childbirth, they should be able to get me through a negotiation about the appropriate length of a skirt. And I’ll continue to wait patiently for the next joke she wants to share or for the next time she grabs my hand as we walk down the street because she forgot that she doesn’t want to do that anymore. And I’ll keep reminding myself of my favorite mantra—this too shall pass.

Published March 27th, 2018