My children were born over a span of 5 years so adolescence lasted quite a while in our house. As my oldest child was part way through adolescence, my next child entered into their adolescence followed by my youngest who entered this most difficult phase. Difficult for parents, for children, for everyone.
I can’t believe we made it. There are two things I used to tell my wife. The first of which was that I didn’t think we all were going to survive the teen years and the second was I now knew why some animals ate their young.
In my experience, a child’s adolescence begins around the age of 10-12. That’s when they start showing signs of becoming an adult. They want you to drop them off for school a block away. They start becoming interested in music that doesn’t sound like music to you and they want to go to the movies with their friends, not you. They start experiencing crushes. They may develop an entirely different circle of friends, a different way of dressing and things, get, tough.
My own adolescence was very difficult, especially my teenage years. Actually, there wasn’t anything I hated more. I can remember fondly the day I turned 13, thinking I was practically a grown-up. I was now a teenager, let the wild parties begin! But 13 turned out to be not much different than 12.
Adolescence was terrible for my children too. I watched them suffer mean kids, failed romances and jobs that didn’t quite work out. I sometimes had to protect them from themselves and the people they were dating. This was like walking on a tightrope with a pit full of alligators below. You have to broach these issues very carefully because as we all know, when your children are in their teens, you are the dumbest person on earth. You have to help them without telling them.
As I watched them navigate middle school and high school, and fall down and get up and fall down and get up again, I knew I couldn’t do much to mitigate their pain except for being there for them when they need it and loving them.
When one of my children was 16 or so, things were so hard on me that I wished that I could fast forward through the teenage years to the next chapter of their lives. Because when you’re the parent of adolescents, time moves so slowly. You frequently have to remind yourself that, although your children look like adults, their bodies are simply betraying the fact that they are still children.
You want to protect them from everyone and everything every day, but you also know they must really experience the lessons of adolescence. So you insist they go to school even though they feel like everyone there hates them, even when they failed a big test yesterday, even when they didn’t get the part in the play they wanted, or didn’t get elected to a position they were striving for. And you wait for the time when you can look back together at those hard moments, stronger and happier, and know they paid off. But the waiting is agonizing.
I used to imagine that each of my children, starting at about the age of 12, was a rock at the bottom of a steep hill. I was standing there, pushing the rock up the mountain but because the rock was completely smooth, sometimes it would move up just the tiniest of bits. Sometimes I would misstep. But often times, even as I threw my back against it, trying to get it up the mountain, my hands would slip and the rock would stay put, refusing to budge an inch or even slide backwards.
As the years passed, my children went to college. They found great friends who did not betray them. They fell in love. I knew these things would happen, yet in those dark moments, when my children were 13, 14, 15 and 16, I didn’t really know if they ever would.
The teen years weren’t all bad. There were highs in there too. When I remind myself of them, I get a smile on my face. Those triumphs, like when my children graduated high school, got the hard-won good grades, or got a sports award, now all of those things helped bolster us.
Now when I see my kids, I see intelligent, beautiful adults actively working towards their career goals, with loving friends and opportunities that I could never have imagined for myself. I see people who went up the mountain slowly and they are now on top. I see people that I brought into the world, who I gave everything I could even to the point of abandoning my wants. When they were teenagers it all seemed so impossible.
In a way, I got my wish. Time really did fast forward. I can’t believe I can say that all my kids are now fully grown and living on their own. Everything’s worked out.