Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
Everyone understands that they're rookies when they bring home their first baby. What people don't know is that you become rookies again once you acquire teens.
For example, with toddlers, parents brimming with hope and inexperience say things like, “We're potty-training him this weekend.”
Equal naivete gets expressed by those same responsible adults when it comes to teaching their offspring how to drive. I promise you, the first, second, third, fourth, fifth — I'm not sure when I should stop counting — times you strap yourself into the passenger seat, as you proceed down the road, you hold your breath and you suck in, hoping somehow it will make the car thinner. This reality does change as the kid gets more experienced, but it doesn't change if you start over with a new teen driver.
You spend the first three years helping to fix your child’s schedule and scheduling your life around your child's nap.
You spend their teen years fixing your life around when your child needs a ride from point A to point B, or waiting for the one who got their driver’s license to return home so you can use the car. (Pro tip: While you're waiting, nap.)
The first five years you raise these people, maybe you worry about snacks and too much sugar, and you say silly things like, “He's never had caffeine, sugar cereal or a Happy Meal.” That's right. His snacks are water, apples and butter-free popcorn, plus the occasional indulgence in avocado toast. You'd tell the babysitter this too. Who happens to be a teen.
When you came home, they'd binge-watched all of Bugs Bunny, ordered an everything pizza and found the Thin Mints in the back of the freezer, and your life remained forever changed.
When your kids are teenagers, they eat only Oreos, Happy Meals and Starbucks, and they expose the world of small children they babysit to the menu they too shall one day consume without apparent consequence.
I think it’s by law.
Newbie parents limit screen time and introduce their children to lovely things like books and classical music and maybe, if they’re vigilant to the point of madness, they get the first kid to be completely strange by the time he or she gets to first grade, knowing the names of certain pieces played by the BSO.
By the time that first kid reaches high school, there is not a radio in your house you can claim as your own, and all the buttons are not only preset on stations you do not know, you're not allowed to touch them. Ever. I don't know what those stations will be, but I can promise, they aren't classical.
Young parents give their kiddos chores and make chore charts with stickers and rewards and allowances. They hold weekly meetings and give special honors to “The Most Helpful Child.”
Veteran moms and dads know you can hold a weekly meeting, but expect to be the secretary as your offspring explain why whatever it is won't work, and how you need to use more discipline on the others, or less on the one doing the explaining. They all will tell you, they deserve the “Most Helpful” award, and explain all the times they've helped but you didn't notice, but would hate for you to mention it because that would mean they might have to keep at it.
When they were babies, you loved them for being, not for what they could do. You celebrated what they could do, you hoped they would do more, but you'd stare at them when they slept and feel a deep happiness, a deep peace at knowing they were in the world.
When they are teens, here's a reminder. Do the same thing. We're called to love people for being, not doing, and it's very easy as kids get older and more accomplished to forget that in our zeal to celebrate new milestones and victories and hard work. Love these people perfectly because they are people, not because they've attained some level of perfection. Even if you've got surly teens who live for the phone and their peers, remember they are still the ones you stared at as they slept, and felt the awe and wonder of their being in the world.