Parenting is hard, and as I’m finding sixteen years in, it only gets harder. If you’re a new parent, may I say “Congratulations!” But I am sorry to tell you that being up all night for feedings will soon seem like Super-Duper Supremeo Fun World Extravaganza Good Time Park compared to teenager problems. I’ll give it to you straight — you will love that baby always, but you won’t always like them.
That’s parenting — and why these tips may be useful — because doing the right thing for someone you may not even like is good form when you have kids. So hahaha, sucker; it’s not about you anymore, and it will never be 100% about you ever again.
I make no claims to be an expert in the parenting field, and although my children are good, responsible people, I cannot take all the credit for this. There is something to be said for nature/nurture, and sometimes nature wins. I’ve spent 98.3% of my time thinking about my kids in one way or another since I found out they were coming, because they permeate every decision I make in some way. I’ve made mistakes; some big ones. I’ve even made “Walmart-underwear-aisle-blow-out-screaming-match-hope-the-video-camera-didn’t-catch-that” ones, but I’m also bold enough to say I’ve done what I think is a fairly good job ensuring my kids won’t be communicating with loved ones through a phone attached to safety glass any time soon.
There are other”rules” too, like allowing time for active play, showing an interest in their schooling, and others, but the suggestions here are my basic, beginner-level ones, because if there’s anything I do exceptionally well, it’s meeting bare minimum standards.
Throw Them A Birthday Party
Kids deserve to be honoured for one day a year. I don’t care if you hate all kids besides your own, chances are your child doesn’t. So haul your ass down to the bakery or mix some sugar and eggs together and make sure there’s a cake. WITH ICING. Hang some streamers, get yourself some ear plugs and go forth to Chuck E. Cheese or a bowling alley for two hours. Two hours. You can’t do that? You make me sick. If nothing else, it’ll be good blog fodder.
Teach Them To Cook
Knowing all the fast-food window staff by name isn’t cute at age 3, and it’s not any cuter at 40. Open a cookbook. Watch the Food Network. Just make sure that by the time your bird leaves the nest they know a lime reamer isn’t for “adult play” and that a garlic press does more than make awesome Play-Doh hair. A couple of basic dishes will do: a roast chicken, a pasta dish, eggs any way, and something on the grill. Bonus points for a traditional native dish. Keep your culture alive, ya jerk.
Put Them To Bed Early. Like “Yesterday” Early
Children today are chronically sleep-deprived. Tired kids are cranky and irritable and not much fun to be around, so fix it. Sure, we all have good intentions of 8:30 bedtimes, but once you factor in teeth brushing, the seventh glass of water and all the existential questions kids ask, you’re looking at 10pm, minimum. Because kids aren’t stupid. They’re trying to wear you down so they can stay up later. They think all sorts of fun shit is going on after they’re in bed. It’s balloon animals and cotton candy as far as they’re concerned. They have no idea we’re just watching crappy TV and dodging sexual promises we made earlier.
Pro-tip: Change the clocks. Knock ‘em back a half hour, and then make it a “no media” night. Then you can say, “Would you just LOOK at the time!” and not be the bad guy. I do this all the time. My kids think today is October 17, 1976 — I’m that good at it.
Make Sure They’re Disappointed
Don’t fix everything for your kids. Let them feel disappointment and responsibility occasionally. You’re going to have to try very hard to not crumble yourself when this happens, because they’re going to cry and it will be tough. My only tip to you here is making sure your bedroom has a box of tissues. Also, vodka.
Let Them Believe In Stupid Stuff
Let them have fantasies and magic in their life, even if you think the things are stupid or pointless, like the Tooth Fairy or a poster of fluffy kittens in a basket. “Real life” is waiting on the other side of your front door, and it’s going to chew your kids up and spit them out. Then Real Life will use its own dental bridge to pick its last remaining rotten tooth — because Real Life is an asshole.
Keep Your House Clean aka Don’t Be Disgusting
I’m not saying you can’t raise lovely, well-rounded, confident children in a disgusting dirty house. Wait; I am. It’s pretty simple actually. Your house need not be pristine, or “Go ahead and lick the doorknobs” sterile. No one wants a slovenly partner in life and if you’re setting the bar somewhere between “Hobo shanty town” and “Tonight on a very special episode of Hoarders,” you’re not doing your kids any favours.
Care about Their Health
I don’t care if you’re into natural remedies, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, or witch doctors. Maybe you prefer every modern interventionist technique available, whatever. Just take your kids to a health professional regularly. Get their teeth cleaned. Have a garage sale for a braces fund if they need them. Go to the eye doctor so they can see properly. Feed them the best food you can reasonably afford, prepare it the best way time will allow, and sit down to eat together as often as possible. Look, I’m realistic. My son once ate directly out of the crock pot while we we’re in the car. Life is busy, health care is expensive, and taking kids to get dental fillings is horrible, but you do it anyway because you’re not an asshole, right?
Follow these suggestions as closely as you are able and at the very least you will raise caring, functional members of society who both seek and offer moments of joy to others. Maybe. Or not. Because that’s the thing about parenting — just when you think you’re doing everything right, everything the way you’ve been told to and maybe even read a book or two with a friendly looking lady in a doctor’s coat on the cover — even then your kid will come to you and ask for money for a Adam Sandler movie.
*image courtesy of WikiCommons
I hope there’s a lab someplace working on removing colour from produce, because I’m not sure how long we can stave off scurvy here at our house. Despite unlimited access, my teenager hasn't eaten anything of colour in the last six months that a) grew from a seed or b) had roots at some time in its evolution. This "all-white" diet isn't cutting it.
We love to eat here. We love food and we love going out to eat—especially at "all-you-can-eat" places, because things are better when preceded by the word “unlimited” . . . unless, of course, those things are “tetanus shots,” or “weekend visits from the in-laws.” It's easy, really—you keep it coming, and I don’t cause a scene reminiscent of Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, except where she wants pain killers for her dying daughter. I want ketchup for my French fries!
Occasionally, our family goes to such dining establishments where my kids and I are able to pick and choose from wide varieties of food we don’t have at home, because—surprise!—despite loving food, I hate cooking. My ten-year-old eats like he’s preparing for hibernation, and my teen has a good appetite, as well, but there is one huge difference—the younger child will consume his weight in salmon, garlic broccoli, fresh fruit salad, and black beans, while the teenager's plate returns with rice, mashed potatoes, chicken, bread, and pasta Alfredo. For breakfast this morning she had vanilla yogurt and a glass of milk. Every single thing is white. Our kids are supposed to eat a rainbow, but she shot too high and she’s eating the clouds.
So I've devised a handy list of tangible, concrete solutions you can employ in getting your teenager to eat a colourful, well-rounded diet:
Like all childhood phases and that Havarti cheese log your kid ate for breakfast, this too shall (eventually) pass. I suppose I should be happy she’s eating at all, but trying to get this girl to eat a variety of colours has proven more difficult than keeping a toddler from peeing on the clean laundry pile.
I know how teenagers eat, I was a student at University in my late 30s and I sat next to literally hundreds of kids in lecture halls and cafeterias for five years. (Note to parents: your kids are spending their meal allowances on gin for Brittany and Caitlin's dorm party.) Pancakes and hash browns are gobbled up in place of 12-grain cereals, and the salad bar sits lonely and dejected save for the adult students, campus staff, and that girl in Teva sandals with the unshaved armpits.
Although I know this is a phase and it's likely that as an adult she'll eat a wide range of foods of all colours, it's hard to watch the vegetable tray constantly get passed over for the cheese and crackers, and she's eaten enough yogurt to ensure no one in a 50-mile radius of our house gets a yeast infection going forward three generations. But still, I laid down the gauntlet a few days ago. “You’re not having anything else until you eat a fruit AND a vegetable. Our insurance doesn’t cover treatment for beriberi and you’re giving the kale in the fridge an inferiority complex.”
She rolled here eyes, then reluctantly agreed and complied.
She ate a banana and some cauliflower.
I’m starting a “rickets” fund.
Remember all the stuff we did when we were teenagers? Sometimes I’m amazed I’d made it through those years, and while I was never a kid who actively bought into invincibility clause, my past behaviour certainly indicates that on some level I believed this was true. It’s funny to look back through the lens which is maturity and realize that, yep; I was sort of an asshole.
My daughter often asks me to tell her stories of when I was a teenager. I’m a storyteller by trade and by hobby and it’s hard to gloss over or withhold several details crucial to the plot, especially when someone is clamouring for them. So far I’ve told her only benign tales of my youth, with minor escapades thrown in for good measure and to maintain my street cred. I doubt she’d believe I spent my downtime at 16 reading to the blind or crocheting shawls for Worldwide Abandoned Grandmothers Fund.
The teenage memories I am alternately proud and ashamed of remain in the vault. Those stories are only for me and the other players. When my daughter presses hard for more, I simply report that I can say no more; that I am bound by court orders or pinkie swear to never reveal details of such events. Then I look off into the distance and act melancholy for a few hours for good measure.
At 17 it would have been unheard of to tell our parents we were off to drink contraband wine behind the Mill Pond with a 20 year-old sophomore from second period French class. We blanketed our parents is snugly warm swaths of fleecy lies, so that while they thought we were collecting school supplies for underprivileged children, we were actually rearranging the letters in local advertising signs from “Excited to Our Welcome New Patients “to “Sex Parties Held Nightly.” And as hard as it would have been to come clean to our parents, it’s nearly impossible to do so now to our kids. We know we were stupid. We all did stupid things. But we’re grown-ups now and our stupid is a different kind. It’s “forget to add fabric softener to the rinse cycle” and “left milk out on counter overnight.”
It’s not the same pattern of dumb decision making that happens in teenage brains. They can’t help it; it’s biology. Don't think for a minute that idiocy and short-sightedness are a condition of the current generation. That shit is a genetic flaw and it affects almost the entire first world population. Basically, if you were not helping to support a family or milking goats or panning for gold at 17, you were probably an asshole sometimes, too.
I want for my teenager the same things most people want for their children: security, safety, education, agency, and respect. But I also want her to have the freedom to sometimes act like an idiot, albeit a reasonably safe one. I’m starting to realize that I can’t be Mama Bear Buzzkill forever, and so I am loosening the reigns, using my own teenage experiences as a yardstick. Ultimately I believe she is entitled to make mistakes and create memories and this privilege cannot always be denied simply on the basis of my discomfort.
It is my hope that my daughter will emerge her teens with a few battle scars, some secrets, and an overflowing handful of memories — some of which she should never tell her children.