It's an oldie but goodie: last year's post from Katie Wetherbee is making the rounds again. In Joy, or "Just Wait?" the author describes how she winced when she overheard a women bitterly warning a young couple about their brand new baby. "Just wait," the older woman said. Just wait until that cute little baby grows up and turns into a terrible teenager. Then we'll see how happy and proud you are!
I remember hearing comments like that when I was a new (and overwhelmed!) mom. It seemed that many parents were suffering from a chronic case of disappointment and dissatisfaction called ”Just-Wait-itis,” characterized by the inflammation of impending doom in parenthood….I felt trapped in a swirl of know-it-alls who were warning me that the worst was yet to come.
I was lucky enough to have an older sister who did regularly tell me "Just wait" -- but she meant it as an encouragement. Just wait until they're older! Yes, the baby and toddler years are sweet beyond compare; but there are all kinds of wonderful things ahead of you, too. Here are a few of the things I love about my three teenagers:
They can do stuff. Do not underestimate the sheer magic of this phrase, when you whisper it into the ear of a mom who is knee deep in baby land, and whose idea of unheard of luxury is having someone else pour the juice. Or clean up the spilled juice. Or just not need juice for ten stinking minutes. The other night, my husband and I sipped wine and nibbled on cheese and crackers while listening to Lou Reed. And where were our nine children? Oh, folding laundry in the living room. The older kids directed the younger kids. It wasn't done perfectly, but man, someone else was doing it. And I hear it just gets even more magical when your older kids can drive.
They can teach younger kids stuff. While it's heartwarming and so on to teach your first child to tie her own shoes, the glow has faded somewhat by the time you're bending over your sixth or seventh little pair of feet. When older kids taek over and teach younger kids, it's a win-win-win: good for the little kid, who learns something; good for the older kid, who learns patience and feels important; and good for you, who gets to sit back and feel proud.
There are so many treats to share as your kids get more mature, their tastes broaden, and their minds are ready to digest more than the simplest meals. You've read them Narnia; now introduce them to Perelandra. They've mastered making scrambled eggs; now you can turn them loose with a cookbook and see what happens. Their tastes have been formed by the early Beatles; now let's see what they make of David Bowie. They thought Jurassic Park was scary; put the younger set to bed and fire up Signs. I'm always happy to return to childhood classics with the little guys, but my husband and I love talking about what the big kids are ready for now.
They are just like us. One of the hardest -- and most fruitful -- parts about raising kids is watching them do, say, and think the exact same dumb things that you remember doing, saying, and thinking at their age. What could possibly be good about this? A few things. First, if you felt (like 100% of teenagers) like nobody understood you, then maybe you can take that insight, dig a little deeper and do a little better with your own kid. You can't fix the past, but you get a second chance with the present.
Or second, maybe you can reach back and apply a little balm of understanding to the past. Your own parents found you intolerable as a teen? That's because, you suddenly realize, you were genuinely intolerable. It's just easier to see now that you're on the other end of it. If your parents are still alive, it wouldn't hurt to send them a note to say that you have a little more sympathy for what you went through together when you were a teen.
They are nothing like us. Depending on how you approach it, this one is even more exciting, or more frustrating, than recognizing similarities. When my kids do or say something that gives me mental whiplash, I sometimes realize that I'm meeting a little bit of my husband that I never knew before. This is a great privilege, because I love this man, and the more I know him, the more I like him. More than once, I go to him with a baffling story about one of our kids, and he says, "Oh yeah, I remember thinking that." And I had no idea!
And of course they are their own people, not just a composite of him and me. And that is probably the most thrilling of all.
Yes, there are trials and strains that come with the teenager years. You will probably find yourself breathless with shock at some of the thoughtless, selfish, even barbaric things they do. And there are new problems: Dating! Parties! Cell phones! Sneakiness! But there are so many joys to come, things you never anticipated. Why would it be nothing but suffering and trials? They're still your kids, and you will still love them. Just wait!