September 15, 2012

This is a Stage That Will End

Now that I am through it, I notice something I didn't notice before about the way people discuss the various stages of the baby and toddler years. There are two basic ways of doing it: one is with an obvious understanding that the particular stage will end, and the other is without that understanding.

Both groups understand intellectually that what they're going through is temporary. It would be pretty much the most condescending thing in the world to say gently, "You do realize this is TEMPORARY, right?" EVERYONE REALIZES IT'S TEMPORARY.

Except they don't. They haven't internalized that information, so instead of talking with undertones of this: "This stage is driving me nuts! I can't wait for this stage to be over! This is not my favorite stage so far! Here is how I am trying to survive this stage!," they are talking with undertones of this: "Here is how I am trying to survive the unending suffering of my new life. Here are some of my new permanent coping skills. Here are my thoughts about this particular unsolvable issue that will never go away on its own." They don't say any of this directly, but it seeps through everything they do say.

And this is what I've noticed creeping into the way I think and feel about rearing teenagers. I DO know it's temporary! I DO! ...Except I don't. I am working on internalizing it, but it will blow your mind to hear that it's not easy to do that. If it WERE easy to do that, we'd all fully understand ALL the things we can't seem to make ourselves understand about eating, exercise, success, work, what's truly important, the passage of time, and our eventual deaths.

I can see the evidence that it's a stage and that it will be okay: OTHER parents have gone through the teenage years and have come out on the other side of it still recommending that people go ahead and procreate. OTHER parents have gone through the teenage years but then still speak to and enjoy their adult children. OTHER parents have gone through the teenage years, and they LAUGH ABOUT IT.

Doesn't this sound familiar? This is how I remember reasoning my way through the pregnancy/newborn stage: Other parents have survived it. Other parents went through it and still recommended the idea to others. Other parents even remember certain parts fondly. Most importantly, other parents voluntarily HAVE MORE CHILDREN after the first one! So they must, overall, feel it was a satisfactory and worthwhile experience, and it will likely be okay for me, too.

I thought the same about having a second child: it SEEMS like such a thing would be impossible to do---and yet other parents are doing it. Therefore it IS possible, and will likely be possible for me, too. I DID still panic: if we can barely handle it with BOTH of us and ONE child, how can it possibly work to have two? or three? or more? But during that stage, I remember thinking that we could just take it one baby at a time: yes, we thought we wanted a lot of kids, but we weren't CONTRACTUALLY COMMITTED to that, we could stop ANY TIME and just have one baby, or just two.

With teenagers, though, here's what it's like: imagine being in one of the hard stages of babyhood/toddlerhood, but knowing that you HAD to have four more children. There was NO CHOICE. You have THIS impossible baby/toddler, and there are FOUR MORE BABIES/TODDLERS COMING, LIKE IT OR NOT.

That is what I am having a little trouble dealing with sensibly these days. It doesn't matter how I do with parenting a teenager, or whether I decide it's "for me" or not: there are four more of them coming along unavoidably right after this one. And I am currently lacking the internalized understanding that this is a stage that will end.

28 comments:

MomQueenBee said...

I totally get that. Those women who have teenagers and get pregnant with another child? They have YEARS to dread the Hell Year. Shudder. I don't think my blog hit Reader yesterday (what the heck?) but I wrote it for you.

Nowheymama said...

OK, so what helps me get through this kind of thing is thinking about how each child is different, and how each stage--though similar in some ways--was different with each child because of who they each are and who I am (ie. parent of newbown #1 vs. parent of newborn #5.)

Nowheymama said...

*is different

Stupid tense shift.

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing about teenagers.....often the 13-14 age range is THE WORST. I have a feeling that you might hit 15 with your oldest and things will get lots better. And once you hit kids 2 and 3 in the teenage years, you'll be expecting the worst and it might make it seem better :)

I was a horrible, horrible 13 and 14 year old. I was much better later on!

Suburban Correspondent said...

All the teens are different, and some are easier than others. BELIEVE ME, I know. Also, I suspect (although I am only on my 3rd teen) that we get better at dealing with each successive one (just like you didn't freak out when your fourth 2-year-old refused to share, right?). I'll get back to you on that.

Also, there's boarding school. Can't do that with toddlers...

Cherie said...

First, what others said above about teenagers being different. So true. I think even more so than toddlers, some people just go through that stage so much easier than others.

Second, with toddlers, didn't you feel like you...got better at it? By toddler #5, were you able to both handle phases better as they came AND to remember to panic less/laugh more? You are a smart person. You will be able to learn from this first one and alter your approaches for ensuing teenagers.

Phancy said...

Also, this is the first time the younger generation in your house is going through the teenage stage too. Meaning that the next kids will know what to expect and know what is going on also. So, you will all have a road map, parents and kiddos. The oldest is breaking all the barriers.

Belly Girl said...

I truly wish I had something fantastic to tell you, but here's the bright side: You have so brilliantly conquered the toddler/elementary age, so you will no doubt conquer teenage too. Selfishly, I'm glad that you'll be able to pass along your tricks before I get there.

StephLove said...

I found almost every stage easier with the second one, even though she wasn't, objectively speaking, an easier child in each stage (she was harder in some and easier in some, as you'd expect). The difference was I knew EMOTIONALLY that the stage would pass instead of just knowing it intellectually.

MaggieO said...

I am guessing the first-born teenager may be more annoying than the others, especially with the particular things that drive you up the wall (and would me too). I'm sure they will all have their particular challenges, but maybe some you will find do not get quite under your skin as much? I am basing this on zero evidence, however.

MargieK said...

In addition, I think the thing with teenagers is that the ramifications of the types of trouble they can get into are so much more serious than what we've navigated during toddler and elementary stages. Yes, you can console yourself that it's just a phase and it will get better (even if that means they'll move out and no longer be your responsibility), but there are land mines like drugs, car accidents, teen pregnancies and school expulsions to guide them away from IF they'll even listen to you anymore. Hormonal urges take over a big portion of their brains, and they don't always think logically (not that younger children do all the time, but they start to resemble adults fooling us into thinking they won't make what we see as dumb mistakes). We love them and want them to have happy lives, as free of these land mines as possible.

I remember reading when my kids were younger that if you'd instilled good values in them from the beginning, that much of their personality was instilled by age 7. So if you'd "done a good job" parenting when they were younger, they'd turn out OK. That helped me get through the teenage years with my now-twenty-somethings. They had their problems -- and made me doubt how good a job I'd done when they were younger -- but are all doing OK, finished college, have jobs, and are making us proud. :)

shin ae said...

I do think I had such a hard time with my first baby for the reasons you mentioned. I had no sense whatsoever that it was a stage. It's regrettable because I think I was both far more depressed than necessary, and insufferable to those around me.

Not that other people are insufferable. Just...I was. I'm sure of it.

Jessica said...

This is a terrifying thought. The toddler stage is kicking my butt right now and the thought of more toddlers is bad enough (we haven't decided whether to have more kids), but now I have to consider whether I can deal with more teenagers! (I've always ignored thoughts like that, because no use worrying about things that aren't here yet. But I didn't think about how once you ARE there, you HAVE to go through it X number of times.)

shriekhouse said...

Ohhhhh this totally resonates. Though we haven't hit the teens yet, my oldest is officially a tween and I am a handwringy mess over it. I KNOW it's just another transitional thing but it also feels so OMG WHO IS THIS PERSON AND WHERE DID MY DAUGHTER GO and permanent and horrible. I agree with above commenters that the first is probably the hardest, being the trailblazer and all... but it's hard not to see it less as trailblazing and more as irrevocable scorched earth!

Sarah said...

All I can think to say is since babies and toddlers can vary widely in how easy they are to handle, how mischievous, how destructive, how defiant, etc, surely teenagers are the same. So hopefully the things driving you crazy now won't be the particular things that you have to deal with the next time through it. I'm sure they'll drive you crazy in some fresh new way, of course, but not this particular issue/issues.
I have to believe this principle to survive through Taliana's toddlerhood, because right now Jamie is so challenging on a daily- hourly!- basis that Jim and I keep telling each other, "Well, Tali will be easy to make up for this. SHE HAS TO BE."

Sam said...

I am in the terrible teen years. My way to cope (which won't work for children spaced nicely like yours) is to tell myself we'll be able to afford boarding school by the time the littles are teenagers. Also, the new baby stage or teething or whatever doesn't last for YEARS ON END PLEASE SHOOT ME NOW like the teen years. I cannot fathom how people emerge from the other side of high school sane.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

As someone who feels very far away from parenting a teenager, I am terrified.

I remember my father-in-law saying repeatedly that he absolutely loved getting to know his kids as adults "since they were complete assholes as teenagers." For some reason, that gives me hope.

Swistle said...

MargieK- Oh dear, but this means that if they DON'T turn out okay, it's not THEIR fault or THEIR responsibility, it's that we didn't do a good job parenting them when they were younger!

Swistle said...

shriekhouse- YES, I am definitely feeling the "WHERE IS MY BABY??" feeling. It feels like the whole baby/toddler/child has been swapped for some new person. Ack.

Julia said...

I have two sons, ages 26 and 19 -- the 26 year old tested EVERYTHING during his teen years. I STILL thought the second would be easier -- like childbirth - YOU FORGET. 19yo has made 26 yo look like a total amateur. Still, I have the hope of seeing 26 year old emerge from those years into a likeable adult I enjoy spending time with. fingers crossed for one more of those.

Rebecca said...

As has been said, all teens are different. The difficulties you're finding with the first may never materialize with the others. So there's that to (maybe) look forward to. They're all different and odds are at *least* one other will be easier/different than this one. You will likely have at least one "no sweat" teenager.

My older son is 16. My younger is 7. The 16 year old is, in general, pretty easy. (I think the 7 yr old will be a handful as a teen!) We've only had a couple of tough issues, so I'm not finding it as trying as it could be. I find talking to him and especially listening to him makes a huge difference. He's a good kid who has, for the most part, made good decisions. Not sure that's all me, because I really do think he's just got a good head and a good heart, but it definitely helps me.

Keep talking, keep doing your thing, and I think as he gets older, it will get easier for both of you.

Anonymous said...

You also should keep in mind that all children are different. I mean, of course, you know that already, but it's another one of those things that need to be internalized. In my family of four, my sister and I (the second and the fourth) were little rebels/brats through our teenage years. My brother and my other sister (first and third)? Absolutely a charm to deal with. So don't despair.

Leigh said...

The comment above this stating that all children are different--that's actually what frightens me. My two daughters are SO DIFFERENT, I know that their teenage years will be entirely different and so nothing I learn this time around with the 14-year old will be applicable with the younger one.

I always knew, intellectually, that teenagerhood would be a tough stage; I just didn't expect it to be so difficult, so suddenly.

Swistle said...

Leigh- YES, that worries me too! Like, I am going to have to learn this FIVE DIFFERENT WAYS---and just as I feel like I've figured ONE way out, I'll have to SWITCH.

It reminds me of how my firstborn HATED nursery rhymes and fairy tales and ANY music with lyrics---and then my secondborn came along and liked ALL those things. Ack! Reset, reset!

Anonymous said...

Ok, so here is what made the difference for me between the first one and the second (who I happen to be up nursing at 3am), I changed. My way of thinking and acting had changed. I had already given up certain freedoms and completely changed my life and way of thinking, so this one is so much better. So maybe that's the ticket?
Plus, later u won't have all stages at once. You'll have all independent people and no tiny kids, so that's something that would be easier.

Lora said...

Okay, so I don't have a teenager, and it's been a half a lifetime since I was a teenager, but I absolutely LOVE the book Yes Your Teen is Crazy

http://www.amazon.com/Yes-Your-Teen-Crazy-Without/dp/0936197447

We use it for professional development at work, but I've read it twice more on my own time.

Not only does it help me do my job better, but I can also relate to my teenaged cousins better, and most importantly it helps me understand the teenaged me better. I was able to let go of a whole lot of crap that I couldn't let go of before, because OMG. I am NORMAL.

Lora said...

oh, and also? Teenage brains, when measured on scientific scans and machines and stuff look almost identical to toddler brains.

So teenagers are basically just overgrown two year olds.

Terrible Twos have got nothing on the Terrible Teens.

Swistle said...

Lora- ADDING TO AMAZON CART.