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7 Universal Truths About Raising Teenagers

7 Universal Truths About Raising Teenagers

By Chris Jordan

I don’t have babies.

The other day I was lying on a lounge chair at our neighborhood pool.  My friend was lying on the chair next to me.  We were chatting and flipping through magazines.  A toddler ran by us, her harried mother on her heels, scooping  the child up before she reached the pool’s edge.

My friend and I both let out little gasps over the cuteness of the baby– her chubby thighs, her pink polka dot bathing suit, her blond hair curling at the back of her neck.  Then we went back to our magazines.  As the toddler ran by squealing again, determined it would seem to launch herself into the swimming pool, my friend turned to me, “I am so glad I don’t have one of those anymore.”

Me too.

My youngest is going to kindergarten this year.  My oldest is in highschool.  They all sleep through the night.  I don’t have to wipe any butts other than my own.  They can dress themselves.  They can feed themselves.  They can get themselves into the car without help.

This year marked the first time that everyone can swim proficiently.  Going to the pool is now just as relaxing for me as it is for them.  I no longer need to be within arms reach of anyone.  I no longer count, and recount, bobbing heads in the water.

As I lay there enjoying my delicious freedom, my phone rang.  One of my teenagers was calling.  I spent five minutes in intense negotiations with him, before hanging up.  I turned to my friend who was laughing in commiseration.

“Some days I think chasing a toddler around the pool’s edge would be less exhausting than parenting older kids.”

“That is because there is no gray area  with them.  That mother has one focus here, to keep her baby out of that pool. And so she chases her back and forth.  At the end of the day she will feel accomplished, you know, her baby is still alive.  Big kids?  Who knows where the edge of that pool is.  Sometimes I worry I am not even paying attention to the right things.”

Me too.  Oh yeah there is still a pool, its edges are just undefined.

But I have learned things being a parent to older kids.  I present to you these 7 Universal Truths about parenting teenagers.

1) Teenage brains do not work properly. 

I am pretty sure that there is scientific evidence to support this assertion.

Do you remember back to before you became a parent?  Remember all of those ideas you had? Remember how you thought you were going to be the perfect parent to the perfect baby?

Then you had that baby and realized that you in fact knew nothing.  Remember?

That is exactly what raising teenagers is like.  Except that unlike parenting babies, teenagers point out to you the fact that you know nothing.

Before I had teenagers I thought I would be the most empathetic parent.  I would understand my teens in a way my parents never did.  I would be the cool mom.  My kids would share everything with me and hang on my every word.  My advice would fall upon them like it was manna from the sky, welcomed with open arms.

Then, my kids grew. I had teenagers.

One day I stood there listening to them and I had an epiphinal moment.  And that epiphanal moment was not one where I felt a kinship with my teen over having been misunderstood 20 years ago.  No, it was a moment of realization that teens, by their very nature, are out of their minds.  And that once upon a time I was one also.

2) You will decide to pick your battles. 

Those absolutes you held onto?  Your line in the sand?

All those ideas I had about only feeding my kids healthy, organically grown food?  I had a special food mill, for crying out loud.  Yeah, teenagers eat a lot of food.  I am almost almost embarrassed by my grocery cart and live in fear that Jamie Oliver is suddenly going to pop up in front of me and yell at me.  I will only be able to point weakly at the organic fruit at the bottom of the cart that is in danger of being crushed by all the boxes of frozen pizza.

3) There is a reason they have grown bigger and stronger than you. 

It is a survival mechanism.  Face it, they are just too big for you to bury the body alone.

4) You will want to turn everything into a life lesson.

Resist the urge.

Most of the time the best thing you can do is listen to their stories, laugh with them, and make a mental note to call your own parents, because in spite of what you think, you were exactly the same.

5) You will question your sanity. 

I am not proud of this fact. One day last week I yelled at my teenage son.

No, there is more.  I stood on a chair in my kitchen to yell at him.  In my defense, if there could be such a thing, I wanted to be at his eye level.  Just so you know?  Standing on the chair did not give me the air of authority I desired.  Unless people laugh at authority figures?  Yes, that must be it.

6) You will hear your own parents voice coming out of your mouth.

At times it will shock you.  Other times it will feel perfect, like you are reciting out of the Parenting Handbook you somehow were never issued.  When your kid says, “Everyone else is doing it,” what else are you supposed to do but invoke the Brooklyn Bridge?

7) They will make you laugh in spite of yourself. 

Today I was driving my son to his friend’s house and I was a little annoyed.  I had spent the morning criss crossing the city, but my son waited until I was home and working to ask for a ride to his friend’s house.  As I went on with my lecture about being considerate, my son turned me and said, “You know, you really should cherish these moments.  Soon enough I will be gone.  Then what will you do?”

I laughed.

What will I do when that day comes?  I will be thankful I successfully navigated the edge of the pool.

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • Sally

    July 21, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I’m so glad to read a contributor who has older children – I love the site and read an awful lot of articles which are no longer relevant to me (two children of 14 & 17) with enjoyment, but it will be nice to have some child-related content which is a little more pertinent.

  • owlhaven

    July 21, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    This is great! You are so right!

    Mary, mom to 10, including 3 teens, 3 almost-teens, and 2 just barely-past-teens.

  • leanne

    July 21, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    As a mother to a four year old and a one year old this is TERRIFYING. I’m thanking my lucky stars that I’m just chasing around the pool right about now.

  • suburbancorrespondent

    July 22, 2010 at 12:14 am

    You said it, sister! My youngest is also 5. I now have 3 teens. I used to know everything. I have friends with only younger kids and they still know everything. I can see them looking at me funny when I talk about my older kids and I know they are thinking I must be doing something wrong. Surely it can’t be as difficult as all that… not if you raise them right!

    Just you wait, ladies…just you wait…

  • Adriana

    July 22, 2010 at 4:16 am

    I’ve got a just-shy-by-one-week 10yr old, and his brother one year behind him. I really wonder when the change happens. They’re both so sweet and they still listen to me and believe that I know almost everything. Some days I swear I get just a glimpse of the teenage mind… and it scares me.

  • LisaK

    July 22, 2010 at 8:39 am

    I totally did your #5 …. then my 16 year old (6’4″)son picked me up off the chair and patted me on the head :)!
    Glad you’re posting here.

  • Mary Jo

    July 22, 2010 at 8:48 am

    I LOVE this! Everything you wrote is so true!

  • Diahn Ott

    July 22, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Fantastic! I have so much to look forward to…I’m not chasing around the pool anymore, but with 10 and almost 9 year old sons, I know I’ll be facing your universal truths far too soon…

  • Maggie

    July 22, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Looking forward to reading more from you here. You should have material for a while, as I find the 18-21 years are the hardest of all.

  • Jen

    July 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    I’m dreading the teen years with my daughter (she is 2.5 right now). I see shades of what she will be like, and it is going to test my patience! Congratulations to you for doing such a good job with your kids.

  • Lori

    July 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    My son (barely) survived his teenage years. This year for his 24th birthday I bought him this t-shirt. You should buy 7 of them, of course.

  • suzie

    July 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I love this!  

    I often have to coax my husband to understand the “pick your battles” point, and food was one of the major issues.  My 14 yo (girl) can go through vats of rice and dozens of bags of corn chips each week – her snacks of choice.  Drives him crazy that the fruit sits by gathering fruit flies … 

    To the reader above – I found with my older daughter that the end of 12/beginning of 13 is when “it” starts.  My younger daughter is now 12, and I can whispers of it – but nothing too bad yet.

  • Mindy

    July 22, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    I’m a firm believer that the lamaze training they teach you to get through the birth process is much more helpful with teenagers. Mom to kids 17, 15, 12, 10, & 6. Love your writing!

  • Rebecca

    July 22, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    I actually have the best sons ever. One is now 21 and my baby is 18 and leaving for college at the end of the month. Yes, they can test your patience when they are in the early phases of teendom but when you finally get through to them that you are not as “stupid as you look” it is great.

    My philosophy has always been that God made babies so cute and cuddly so that we would keep them (considering all the work they are) and He made teenagers so obnoxious so that we would let them go.

    And I can totally relate to the standing on the chair comment. Both of them are more than 6′ tall and have to lean down to kiss me (which they still do). Gotta Love Em!!

  • Rebecca

    July 22, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    I Love these “Truths”. I have one to add that has been my philosphy for years and I stand by it even today, even though I have the greatest boys in the world (21 & 18). God made babies so cute and cuddly so that we would keep them (considering all the work they are) and He made teenagers so obnoxious so that we would let them go!

  • Cincy

    July 22, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    This is probably the best thing you’ve ever written–and not just because I can relate to every word! Keep ’em coming!

  • PastormacsAnn

    July 22, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    So. very. true.  And made me really LOL.    

    Ann – mom to 7, including 3 teens, 2 tweens, & twin 5 yr olds.

  • Aks

    July 22, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    When my kids became teens (now 18,16,11) a friend told me the key to speaking to teenagers is to subtract 10.

    That is, speak to a 15 year old, as though they are 5. Or that Five words per sentence rule. I work in a highschool and it really does help. It’s true, they do not have normal brains. And getting them to 18 is one thing, getting boys to the age 21 is a feat.

  • Jana

    July 23, 2010 at 9:32 am

    My mom gave me the best insight ever when she declared that after 15 there were no more sleepovers, because they were actually SNEAKOVERS….teenagers going somewhere, doing something, that they cannot do at home! I implemented this rule in my house and saved myself years of pain and anguish!

  • Lena

    July 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    So. True. I think this is the first summer where I’ve actually suggested we go to the pool…instead of lying and saying it’s closed.

    (So glad you’re at AM now! Isabel has always had great taste.)

  • SAJ

    July 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

    I feel so much better knowing you’re writing these regularly. Now my kid can grow up. Phew!

  • Erin

    July 26, 2010 at 2:14 am

    I am so blessed to have found this site. I am a mother of one 14y[boy]. I could not concieve and then at 45,SURPRISE!! We live in a mountain town and it’s just the three of us, it has been wonderful until he grew two feet and his voice changed over night. I swear it was that fast.he is loving ,but o! so manipulating as iI was at his age. sometimes I feel so inept and you have to stay firm, I know that teens can smell fear. I love reading other mothers writing. thanks for this site.

  • […] raising teenagers harder than raising toddlers? Chris Jordan says that sometimes, yes it is. She’s got seven […]

  • Lucinda

    July 30, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    I laughed so hard at the standing on the chair image. I can already wear my 7 year old’s shoes. I can only imagine how big he will be when he grows into his feet but I’m sure I will need to stand on a chair to be eye level. Thanks as always for your refreshing transparency.

  • Cheryl

    August 3, 2010 at 4:09 am

    I WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE with this article. My favorite is rule #1. Yep they have lost their little minds….or big minds…which ever. But everyday my 15 year old thinks I am just a dumb “OLD LADY” and I’m not even 40 yet!!

  • ShreddedNerves

    August 20, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Thank you *so* much for this post.  I am right on the edge of that metaphorical pool.  Never engaged with the whole mommyblog thing  – “yeah, small people, boundaries/routine – piece of p***”…  And then we hit the teens… (I hear your “mwah ha ha!” from here!)  These last few weeks/months with our 13 year old (acting like a 17 year old in my day) have been testing our family to our very limits.  You have made me laugh  in recognition and shed more than a tear in relief.  Is it bad point 3 made me laugh the most?  Well done you for sharing.  So very glad you’ve written this.  Shame I found this through a desperate google search-for-sanity.  This topic should be a mandatory epilogue in those “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” baby books.  Bon courage!  (And FWIW sounds like you are doing everything just right!)  

  • Teenage Sons

    October 7, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Great article Chris! I think you’re tips are well put and very relatable. It was honest and what a lot of parents with teen boys go through.

    A few tips that stood out were “You will decide to pick your battles.” and “You will question your sanity.”

    I think these are great truths because it’s plain true and good advice. Knowing when to listen and when to advise is a skill many parents have a challenge with. It’s hard to listen to your son when you feel completely different about a situation. But he will love you for it and it’s a great example you’re setting by sincerely listening.

    And, questioning your sanity is just funny. Teenagers in general can drive you to the edge. You’ll do things that might seem a little crazy because you become so frustrated. Like standing on a chair :). But as long as a parent is self aware and knows that standing on a chair doesn’t work so well, you’re fine. Self awareness is important for a parent and knowing how to self-sooth especially after an argument with your son.

    I think the article ended well with a laugh. Laughing will get you through some tough times too. It was a great moment between mother and son which makes you think too.

  • psychomom

    December 17, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I am feeling terrible about yelling at my sonon the way to school constantly over the same stuff. He says I make him nervous when I tell. Then why doesn’t he take heed and do what he is supposed to do? I must say reading this made me laugh out loud. I loved the standing on the chair incident. Never thought of that, but I’m sure my 6’1′ 14-year-old son would have laughed at me then I would probably laughed at myself and defeated the whole purpose. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I hopeI have some sanity left to pass on to those now toddler mom’s.

  • Erica

    May 30, 2015 at 1:30 am

    I’m so glad i found this. After a day of tears and feeling like a fool for picking my battles….this really helped me feel “not alone”. I was so proud of raising a beautiful, smart daughter. She has won so  many awards and is popular, etc, etc. She just graduated and will hopefully start college in the fall. I get compliments on her all the time and I smile and dote on her, but the truth is ….right now, her brain is broken. It has to be because she is really testing the limits with me (and only me). She told me I was stupid and I don’t understand anything. She rarely talks to me, she snaps at me about everything, and she goes on social media and berates me constantly. This is not my child. This is not my child even six months ago. I’m biting my tongue because I don’t want to ruin our relationship before she leaves home, but anyone that knows me would tell you this is not me at all. I’ve always been firm with her, but now I’ve been reduced to a crying mess locked away in my room. All I have to comfort me is the knowledge that….”this too, shall pass”. 

    • Kimberly Crowe

      November 1, 2017 at 11:23 pm

      Omg this sounds exactly like what I am going through! That’s what brought me here… Googling how to get through life raising a teenager alone.