“Leave me alone,” my daughter whines, pushing me away.
“Let me help you,” I say fiddling with the source of her angst, a stubborn clasp on a pair of scuffed Mary Janes.
But it’s no use: I’m talking to her hand, which is now sprawled across my face.
Thankfully, my daughter’s sass doesn’t last long. She eventually submits and allows me to get the clasp started and proudly stuffs her feet into the shoes.
These days, her moods are as variable as water. One minute she’s a dour diva, the next she’s curled on my lap with those hands that were once pushing me away now softly caressing my face as she whispers, “I ‘uv’ you, Mommy.”
My darling daughter isn’t a teen or even a tween. She’s a mere three years old, but there are moments when I see glimpses of what’s to come: Those dreaded, hormonal teenage years.
Whenever any of my daughters throw themselves into despair, I feel a flash of my long ago adolescence. Granted, their moments of rebellion and histrionics generally have to do with the fact that I cut their sandwich into rectangles instead of triangles or that I refuse to give into the charms of a certain furry, red monster who answers to the name of Elmo. Oh, but their tears are real. Their frustrations racking. And I see my former self, wishing to be someone I was not, smiling on the outside but coming home to write these dreadful, dramatic poems about heartache and loss (just because I didn’t have a date to the prom – oh, the agony!). The insecurity and heightened emotions come rushing back to me, and I shudder to think my children will someday face the same haunting existence. (I clearly haven’t stripped myself completely of the teenage melodrama.)
My husband and I sometimes shudder, too, just hearing the words “teenager” and “puberty.” We’ve almost got these littles ones figured out, but teenagers? The horror! It doesn’t help that strangers look at our sweet daughters and whisper warnings like, “Watch out. They’ll be teenagers before you know it,” Or, “Girls are easy when they’re young, but just wait until they start dating.”
Puberty, it seems, isn’t a natural part of growing up but a hideous disease to be feared. Worse, there’s no way to inoculate against it. Some strains are easier to bear than others (truth be told, despite my drama queen tendencies, my mom insists I was a relatively easy teenager), but time marches forward and our toddlers will become teens.
Maybe what scares me more than the teenage threat of rebellion is the realization that my babies won’t be babies forever. An unavoidable part of being a mom is letting go. When your youngest child is teetering on the edge of being an adult, you know it won’t be long before your job description of micromanager shifts to that of occasional consultant.
How will I cope with my new role? I won’t feel as needed, but my kids will still need me – just in different ways. I’ve mostly learned how to decipher the emotions of my preschooler. Usually when she’s sulking or sassing off, it’s because she’s hungry or tired or both. A quick cuddle calms her, and we’re back to our pretend tea party. I suspect things won’t be so easy when she’s a teen. But living with teens likely won’t be as complicated (or as harrowing) as I fear either. (If you’re a mom of teenagers and beg to differ, please have mercy on me and let me discover it for myself.)
Given my oldest is only six, I’m no expert on adolescence, but mom intuition tells me parenting teenagers will bear more similarities to raising small children than society might lead you to think. It will continue to be important to be there for my daughters, to pick up on their cues, and to offer unconditional love and support while providing boundaries. Just as young children sometimes use tantrums to communicate what they cannot say, a teenager’s sulking, angry outbursts, and crying may be a sign that they have unmet needs or that they’re unable to communicate what they really want.
So when and if my future teenager daughters scream and slam the door in my face, I will take a deep breath and say a prayer for patience. I will listen before I judge or admonish. I will brace myself for the eye-rolling, the fashion tragedies, and the tears over broken hearts. I will knock softly on their bedroom doors and even more softly on their hearts. “Let me in. Use words. Tell me what you’re feeling.” Then I will give thanks that I’m around to witness my babies grow into fine, young women.