10 Things I Learned in 26 Years of Motherhood

“Welcome to the NFL!”

(photo: Holger Detje/Pixabay/CC0)

When I first became pregnant with our first, I suddenly understood the joke my parents made about newbie parents. Facing what seemed like an intractable impossible unreasonable problem (toilet training, bedtime, meals) — a problem that destroyed all confidence, all personal belief in one’s capacity to parent — they’d say, “Welcome to the NFL” and laugh.

Translation: You just got your first real hit. Now get back up and get out there. It’s game time.

As a parent of many including now, many who are adolescents, I wish to give counsel to those who’ve yet to discover the next big frontier of being a parent — adolescence. So being a blogger-type friend, I wanted to be a Yoda to fellow moms about the more yet to come.

Let me preface it with a big smile. “Welcome to the NFL.”

10. None of these people will have the same drama. Any pats on the back you might give yourself for raising rugged individuals instead of cookie-cutter offspring will be offset by the frustration of never quite becoming an expert, only less of a rookie. I’m still not sure if I prefer the struggle of a kid who won’t drive or the one who really wants to. Ditto on dating, shopping, makeup...

9. The world likes to pretend it has professionalized everything, but most folks haven’t surrendered their entire existence to a single sport or talent. Most families are peopled with human beings who demand a degree of reasonableness to life. So don’t break into a cold sweat when the Tiger Mom Wannabe starts talking about how the only way to have your kid make the team in high school (let alone beyond) is to join the exclusive league that travels six months a year and costs more than college tuition. I promise you haven’t robbed your children of a future — you’ve actually allowed them the luxury of a childhood.

8. Have boys? Get them in sports and something social. Something that keeps them from staying home locked in their room. It can be anything, but it has to be something. Going outside is different from looking at the outside. The same is true for experiencing people and events.

7. Have girls? Get them in sports and something social. Something that keeps them from staying home locked in their room. I don’t care if they chat online; it doesn’t suffice. We live in a world that provides substance-free substitutes for all the real things that matter. (By the way, nos. 7 and 8 do not contradict with 9, 7 and 8 are about getting your kids to be present with and for others, 9 is about not letting a talent keep your child from being present even to themselves.)

6. Date night with your teen may seem awkward. But it’s actually fun, even if you are the only one who calls it that in your head and never in print or anywhere they might see it. Call it “pizza and a movie in,” or “let’s go get hot chocolate” or “I’m making slice-and-bake cookies, want some?” But schedule time — frittery time.

5. They still need hugs, playtime and opportunities to be immature. Provide them the opportunity and the experience in abundance. Cards, video games, football — it doesn't matter the what, what matters is the who.

4. Jobs. During the summer, they need jobs. Summer school counts, but don’t limit it. Some of the biggest growing up comes from official-type real responsibilities with pay and consequences. Some of it comes from discovering what you don’t want to do the rest of your life and some comes from simply discovering you can do something you didn’t know how to do before. Daughters disassembling a bed, for example, proved to be a source of pride. Sons power-washing the deck also created a sense of accomplishment.

3. Pay attention to all the messages you are sending. I’ve had to work on taking better care of my appearance, as part of teaching them to be better stewards of themselves. Teens are great at pointing out where you stumbled up to now. “Why should I get a haircut? You don’t” earned me a trip to the beauty parlor first.

2. Social media and gadgets can create a bubble which lets everything and everyone else in the world into their lives except you. Don’t let the electronic communication tools of today create a wall of silence. These are things they can use, but there are limits and provisos. Follow everything and everyone. Use your veto power. The machines, like the internet, can be (and sometimes should be) turned off.

1. There will be a time when you stare at their room, their hair, their friends, their grades, their tweets, their something, and you will wonder, how, why, what have I been doing with my life? Did none of it sink in? Where did the babies I loved go, and when are they coming back? When the ugliness reaches its zenith and you honestly think, “they’re almost 18, they’re almost 18” — at that point, as no other, pray. Pray and be patient. These are the labor pains of raising an adult, and their hard fight to hold on to childish things. There will be a little something — maybe they make their bed or slip a note under the door or bring a Diet Coke — some kind of sign to you that they love you for not letting them remain children. And though it seems like it will never come while you are waiting, the payoff is so worth it, and you’ll someday forget the pain.