Raising Teens: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Raising Teens A couple of years ago, as my youngest daughter turned 11, I wrote an article entitled 14 Signs You Have Teenagers In The House. As I mentioned at the time, my 11-year old was the only thing keeping me from falling into a complete and total teenage abyss. At the time, I could still bribe her with candy and count on her to have play dates instead of actual dates. But since we’ve crossed that threshold into the teen years, and I now officially have a house full of teens, I’ve found that…every single thing I said back then still holds true.

And so while I thought about recreating a look at the teen years with fresh eyes, I changed my mind, because after all, why reinvent the wheel? And so, with a few minor tweaks and additions, today we’re going to revisit “Signs That You Have Teenagers In The House.” But this go-round, I want to offer my experiences as more of a cheat sheet for parents who are on the brink of the teen years…a sneak-peek at what to expect, if you will. And while, I’ll admit, I don’t have a lot of advice, I can at least offer some spoiler alerts and maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel a bit more prepared.

First things first, the teenage years sneak up on you.

One day you’re planning a Build-A-Bear birthday party, the next minute all they want for their birthday is tickets for Fall Out Boy and you don’t even know who that is or why he fell.

It happens quickly and without mercy. I remember being approached by tired, haggard looking strangers, usually when my toddlers were throwing tantrums in the middle of Target, who would stare at me from hopeless eyes and say, “Just wait until they’re teenagers,” then slowly shuffle away. Now I know what they meant.

Don’t get me wrong, having teenagers isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s just…different.

So very, very different. And these years come with their own set of challenges and rewards. I’ve thought a little bit about what exactly it means to have a house full of, in my case, teenage girls. If you have teenagers, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t have teenagers, then trust my tired, haggard appearance and believe me when I say, “Just wait…”

But wherever you are in your parenting journey, there are a few things I’ve found to irrefutably true when it comes to teens. And that’s what I’m going to share with you today.

So without further ado, let’s get started…

1. Your Netflix “suggestions” will be unrecognizable.

On those rare occasions when I actually try to watch TV, usually with a load of laundry by my side, my Netflix account is convinced that I want to watch all of the movies about cheerleading, every romantic comedy ever made, and all 472 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. For the record, I don’t. Personally, I’m still trying to finish Downton Abbey. But the beauty of this recorded history is that at least I know what my kids are watching – and this allows for more targeted lecturing. It’s all about finding the silver linings, folks.

2. Speaking of the laundry…

Back in the old days, by which I mean the days when I actually did all of the clothes shopping and had control over what articles of clothing my children wore, I recognized all of the laundry as I folded it. These days, I find myself saying things like, “Wait a minute, who plays lacrosse?” as I fold a team uniform shirt that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen.

Between stolen sweatshirts from boys “who are just friends, but like, I don’t know, we’re kind of talking, but, like, it’s cool mom” to the articles of clothing that friends have left behind after sleepovers to the articles of clothing that have been purchased and brought into my house unknowingly, my laundry room looks like a Goodwill donation center. Only messier.

3. The smells. Seriously.

Now, as I mentioned, I have girls. I have been told that boys are even worse. I can only imagine. But you know how every house has it’s own special smell? Like when you come home from a weekend at your parents house and all of your things smell like childhood and magic for a week? Well, all I know is that my house smells like estrogen and feet – with the occasional waft of Bath & Body Works. I live in fear that this is what my kids will remember about their childhood. Estrogen and feet, with a little Japanese Cherry Blossom thrown in for good measure. I am not proud of this.

4. Socks cover every available surface of the house.

Socks seem to appear magically in my house every time I turn around – and not clean ones at that. I can only assume that this accounts for the aforementioned “feet” smell. I find socks everywhere…All. The. Time. I find them on the stairs, on the bathroom floors, in the couch, under the couch, next to the couch, and under the covers of unmade beds (including my own…and they’re not my socks). Today, I found one sitting next to the household computer on the kitchen desk. Just one sock. One, lonely, dirty sock next to the keyboard. Why, you ask? Because teenagers. That’s why.

5. You buy extra food for the weekends, knowing that at any moment, you could have one extra child…or an entire sports team to feed.

I love feeding these kids. I really do. But sometimes I wish my children and their friends would make dinner reservations. We all know how hard it is to keep our own kids’ dietary preferences and concerns straight. But add in a gaggle of new teenagers (and I never know how many it will be) and you might as well be running a food truck. Some are vegetarians, some have allergies, and some only eat Oreos. This means that just to get through the weekend, my kitchen has to look as if Whole Foods and 7-11 joined forces and created a hybrid store.

6. And yet, by Monday morning, your pantry looks like a swarm of locusts has passed through.

I start most Monday mornings shouting, “Are you KIDDING me?!” as I try to put milk in my coffee at 6am only to find an empty milk carton in the fridge. I should be happy that someone at least put the carton back and didn’t just leave it on the counter. But I’m not. Not only is my milk gone, the lemonade has long since been consumed, the pantry is a dietary wasteland, and the counters are covered with the following: a cookie packet containing one remaining half-eaten cookie, Goldfish crackers crumbs, and approximately six tortilla chips in a pile by the sink.

School lunches on Monday require digging to the depths of the crisper drawers and usually consist of a plastic bag of pepperonis (because, protein and I’m a good mom like that), an old cheese stick that hopefully hasn’t expired, and most likely, the tortilla chips.

7. Your phone plan costs more PER MONTH than your first car.

Granted, my first car wasn’t much. But still. The data. Unless my kids are actually participating in Congressional hearings via FaceTime, there is simply no other explanation for the amount of data we go through in my house. If it wasn’t for “unlimited plans,” they would all currently be working anywhere child labor laws aren’t a thing just to afford their SnapChat habits.

8. Teenagers know everything. Except when they don’t.

Try telling my kids anything about anything and they will promptly remind you that they know everything. They like to think they know more about life, the cosmos, and being an adult than anyone else on the planet. But ask them when their English paper is due, where they left my debit card, or who is going to be at the party they want to go to on Friday night, and suddenly, they have early onset teen dementia. It’s a thing. Maybe not medically speaking, but in my house, it’s a thing. I promise.

9. For such know-it-alls, teens manage to make incredibly horrible choices.

Teens are notoriously stupid. I say that with love, but sincerity. And honestly, I am lucky. I have good girls…I really do. But it doesn’t matter how many lectures I provide on social challenges, boys, the importance of grades, or the value of a sensible pair of shoes, they blow me off – after all they know everything, remember? Which makes it really, really hard to understand how they get themselves in the situations they get themselves in to. But on the bright side, I do find an intense, redemptive satisfaction in saying, “I told you so.” I’ll take what I cant get.

10. There will be occasions when you need their advice. 

Mostly, you will need your teens’ advice when it comes to working your phone. But there are a few other bonus advice categories in which my teens come in handy. I don’t go out often, but when I do, I always find myself swallowing my pride and sheepishly asking my kids if my outfit looks ok. The result is like watching a Project Runway team spring into action. Someone is in charge of shoes, someone does jewelry, and the other day, I received a 15-minute tutorial on my eyebrows. I’m still confused. But apparently, once the teen in charge of eyebrows was done, mine looked amazing. Which is not something I was aware eyebrows were supposed to do.

11. You sleep less now than when your kids were newborns.

We all remember how exhausting the newborn phase was. But then you hit that sweet spot when your kids go to bed at 7pm and don’t wake up again until 7am. And don’t get me wrong, teenagers, too, will sleep for 12 hours. But they’ll do it between the hours of 1am and 1pm.

The teen years bring a new kind of exhaustion. Between waiting up to make sure they make curfew, jolting awake at 2am because you’re hosting a sleepover and there are shrieks of laughter coming from the living room, and being awoken at midnight on a Wednesday because someone “forgot” to make a poster for biology and want you to make sure they’re awake at 5am (as if you’re going to be hanging out looking for something to do at that hour), you won’t get a good night’s sleep for years. Years, I tell you.

12. Teens live their lives in a constant state of hyperbole.

After six full years having one or more teenagers in my house, my emotional barometer is absolutely shot. I mean, how many “BEST FRIENDS…EVER” can someone possibly have? And don’t ask a teen how their day was, because it will either be the worst day in history (which will make you question everything you thought you knew about history) or it will be AMAZING, which will make you wonder why they are not happier people in general.

13. They use all of the dishes, all of the time.

I brought at least 15 dirty dishes up from the family room the other day and some of them had science experiments growing in them. I am not sure what I did to make my kids think that they could not reuse cups, that plates and bowls can’t be washed, or that spoons are disposable. As for how dishes manage to accumulate in every room of the house OTHER than the kitchen, the only thing I can figure is that they eat their cereal in the morning, promptly throw their spoon in the trash, then toss their dirty bowl through the first open door they see on their way out the door. There’s no other explanation.

14. You wonder how something so beautiful can emerge from such living conditions.

If you had never seen my children, but correlated their appearance to the condition of their rooms, you would assume I was raising hobos. And I mean 1940s, eating out of tin cans, train-hopping, harmonica-playing hobos. And yet, each day, beautifully manicured, lovely smelling (see “Bath & Body Works” above) people come downstairs before school to see if the lunch fairy has, once again, made their lunch. It’s like watching the Phoenix rising from the ashes. It would be awe-inspiring if I wasn’t so frustrated, having already asked them 15 million billion times to clean their rooms. At this point, the health department could show up at any point – and it’s not going to end well.

15. You’ll start to see more and more of yourself in them, and it’s not always flattering, but it will keep you going. 

Whoever said that imitation was the highest form of flattery did NOT have teenagers. As these quasi-human personalities start to evolve, I see them struggling to straddle childhood and adulthood with increasing frequency and, all too often, the meltdowns, short fuses, and quirks are like looking in a mirror. (I mean, I did just say “15 million billion” in the previous paragraph after saying that my kids exaggerate everything. I get it. That one’s on me.)

But if your teens are watching and learning, then it’s not too late. Maybe, just maybe, the more I model the adult I want them to become, the more they will follow my lead. And that right there is all the motivation I need to keep trying to be my best self.

16. Even when they don’t act like it, they still need you.  

And this, truthfully, is what makes it all worthwhile. Because you see, teenagers are just toddlers with a little more freedom. They overreact when they’re tired (which, P.S., is always), they eat too many snacks and then don’t want dinner, and most days, they need a nap.

But just like a toddler, they will keep you from the brink of despair with a well-timed hug, an unexpected “I love you,” and if you’re really, really lucky, occasionally they will even pick up their toys without being asked. They are exhausting and infuriating and will make you want to scream most days. But there are few things more exhilarating than watching a teenager gracefully stumble their way into adulthood.

Teenagers will make you laugh, they’ll make you think, and they will push you to be the best version of yourself – whether you like it or not. So as tempting as it is to want them to stay little forever, I’m going to savor this part of the journey as much as I can. They’ll get their wings and fly soon enough and something tells me I’m going to miss them when they do.