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To New Parents, From A Parent of Teens

To New Parents, From A Parent of Teens

By Mir Kamin

We live in a time where waiting until your 30s or 40s to have children seems more common than not. If I’m making small-talk in the grocery checkout line or at a cocktail party and mention that I have not one, but two kids in high school, the response is almost universally shock. “You’re not old enough to have high schoolers!” Well, obviously I’m old enough to have high schoolers—without having had them as a high schooler, myself, even—and it’s not even that I look especially youthful. It’s just that lots of women my age just started having kids a few years ago, or only in the last decade.

I was 26 when my daughter was born. Now she’s headed towards 17 (which means I’m 43); I’ve gained a bunch of weight and wrinkles and gray hair, and as my very favorite hobby is sleeping I will be the first to tell you that if I had an infant at this stage in my life, I’d go insane. I feel old, a lot of the time. I also feel out of place, a lot of the time, because so many of my same-aged peers are in a different life stage than we are. Two of my coworkers had beautiful baby boys this year, and our family gained two gorgeous nieces, too. I don’t want to be that annoying person who’s all, “Oh, just you wait!” or “Let me tell you what it’s like,” because one of the most hard-won lessons of parenting, for me, has been the realization that you just have no idea, heading into it, what awaits you or what you can handle. Besides, no one wants to hear supposed wisdom when there are tiny toes to count and soft bellies to kiss. This is their time to hold their babies, inhale that delicious aroma of hope and promise and organic baby wash, and believe that everything will be perfect.

If I was going share some sort of pseudo-wisdom with those new parents, though, without fear of rolled eyes or hurt feelings, I know what I would say.

I would say that parenting is joyful, terrifying, fulfilling, and rage-inducing. I would say that the hokey “the toughest job you’ll ever love” thing is true, but also that there may be plenty of times that love feels pretty far down on the list of available feelings.

I would say that no matter how or when you come to this parenting gig, children have a way of holding up a mirror to our deepest secrets and fears, even ones we were sure had already been handled or tucked away. Sometimes being a parent will bring out the absolute best in you; you’ll want to be a better person, and more often than you might realize, you are. On the other hand, sometimes being a parent forces you to confront the ways in which you are broken (usually while fervently pleading with the deity of your choosing that you don’t break your kid) and lacking.

I would say that the day will come when you open your mouth and one of your parents’ voices comes out. This may delight you or it may make you cringe. Maybe both. Don’t worry; it will happen more than once, so you’ll have plenty of chances to experience the full spectrum of emotions from nostalgia to horror.

I would say that there will come a point in this parenting gig when you realize how much you can’t fix, and that realization will leave you breathless. At the same time, you will probably remember an instance or two or ten when you judged another parent for something which you believed was their fault, which you now (perhaps with some shame) realize was not only uncharitable and unhelpful, but likely made an already difficult time even worse for them. It’s true that we’re all parenting experts until we have children, and even then, it may be years before we face the stuff that makes colic look like a sunny day in the park. Be kind to other parents. Be kind to yourself, too.

I would say that there will be times when you don’t like your child, and some of those times, you may wonder if there’s something wrong with you, or with them. It may be impossible to picture, as you cuddle your precious infant in your arms, but it will happen. It’s okay. Accept your feelings, but moderate your behavior.

I would say that there will be times when you look at your child and see a stranger and question every parenting decision you’ve ever made. But there will also be times when you behold your adult-sized child and it occurs to you that someday you could be friends. Not just “friends,” but real friends—good, close friends who survived the war together and enjoy each other in spite of it all. That time may still be a long way off, but if you can picture it—at all—that’s a victory. Trust me.

I would say that you will do and say things you never imagined, and you won’t even be sure they’re the right choices, at the time, but you’ll make decisions as best you can and hope for a decent batting average. Sometimes you’ll get it right; sometimes your choices will be catastrophic. I would say that if you’re not already someone who’s comfortable admitting when you’re wrong and offering a heartfelt apology, start cultivating that skill right now, because you will need to apologize to your child countless times over the years. If you do, you’ll both get better and stronger. If you don’t, the trust needed to grow a relationship will erode and create a chasm between you.

I would say that we talk about wanting our children to be healthy and happy, but we’re often terrible at teaching them the tools most likely to result in health and happiness. Or we teach them to the best of our ability and set a great example and they still just don’t get it, and then we blame ourselves. So again, here’s what we need to do: Be kind. Be kind to them, be kind to ourselves, be kind to those we love, be kind to strangers. Keep being kind even when others are mean. Keep being kind even when our children seem bound and determined to demonstrate that kindness doesn’t matter to them. Keep being kind even when your heart is breaking.

I would say that I hope that baby in your arms grows into a strong, confident, capable adult with only the tiniest of hiccups along the way, but no matter how things go, you can handle it. Even if you’re hiding in your closet, sobbing, convinced you can’t? You can. You will. You will let that child go hundreds of times over the years, and many of those times you’ll be convinced they’ll never come back. But you’ll do it. And chances are, they’ll come back again, and you’ll let them go again (and again).

I would say that someday your baby will be a teenager and you’ll look at other people’s new babies and be amazed. You will be a different person than you were when your journey began. You will be envious of the innocence of the new, gobsmacked parent. You will be tired, and frustrated, and worried, and sporadically triumphant, but most often bewildered. You will also feel lucky, and hopeful. Maybe not all the time, but enough.

I would say: It’s a very bumpy ride, but it’s amazing.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • Billie

    December 2, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    I love that I’m not the only one that says I don’t even like my oldest man-child sometimes. Do they have some kind of filter in their brain that makes them not hear a word certain people say?

  • Leeann

    December 2, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Shared this because I agree with every little bit of it. So well written. Thank you!

  • Diana

    December 2, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Love the content, but the title had me thinking “16 and pregnant” not “parent of teenagers”…

    • Mir Kamin

      December 2, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      Ha!! Point taken and title changed. Thanks. 🙂

  • […] you can go back and read about why I hate the “best” gift for teens and then move on to what I’d like to tell new parents if there was any way for it not to sound annoying. Those posts and a buck will get you a crappy cup […]

  • kim too

    December 2, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    I went to a lecture by a woman named Julie Olsen Edwards last year, and she said two things that made this very difficult year easier.  One  was to always use the phrase “right now” when you’re talking about your kids: “right now, she doesn’t sleep through the night’; “right now, he doesn’t like vegetables,” because all of us deserve a chance to grow and change, and these things *will*change. and the other was that she doesn’t know anyone who gets parenting right even 80% of the time, much less 100%.  Moving that bar lower has eased a lot of pressure off of me.

    • Mir Kamin

      December 2, 2014 at 3:44 pm

      LOVE THIS. Such great advice!

  • miranda

    December 2, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I agree with Diana, the title totally threw me as well.

  • Nancy

    December 2, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    This comes at a great time. During the holiday I had to hold my tongue multiple times watching new parents in my extended family struggle with their infant. I wanted to say all these things, but it wouldn’t have been taken well. I shall bookmark this and save it just in case the time is right to share. I couldn’t have said all of this any better. Thank you!

  • Jean

    December 2, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    I love reading your stuff. You say it so well, so thoughtfully. Thank you for continuing to share your thoughts.

  • Jan

    December 2, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    I love this so much.  That is all.

    Actually, it’s not quite all … something about this feels like a goodbye post.  Please say it isn’t!

    • Mir Kamin

      December 11, 2014 at 2:04 pm

      It isn’t! I promise! 🙂

  • Jodie

    December 2, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    Loved this so much – shared to my page.  Especially the part of being kind to other parents. It’s just now 8.5 years in im realizing how little my parenting impacts who my children are becoming. Kindess has been my mantra this year.

  • Elizabeth

    December 3, 2014 at 12:46 am

    I have an eleven month old son. When we were home for Thanksgiving, my great aunt Maxine said to me in her lovely Georgia drawl, ” You know, dear, when I was your age, I had two grandchildren.” I’m not 40 yet. So… I do wish we were sleeping through the night but I am treasure the moments with this little guy! We’ll let tomorrow worry about itself.

  • Brigitte

    December 3, 2014 at 6:49 am

    I’m one of the “antique” parents, and I find it funny how well we’ll get along with some much younger couples, just because our kids are going through the same stages.  I do often torment myself, however, thinking things like “If I’d had my baby when my mom had me, then SHE did the same, I’d have an 8 year old grandchild now.”  :-O

  • Kelcey

    December 3, 2014 at 10:11 am

    I love this. I think if everyone could stop saying “Been There Done That” to new parents that would go along way. Beautiful sentiment and I have found the not being able to fix things and the letting go far harder than those sleepless infant nights. 

  • Melinda

    December 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    I had kind of a funny moment the other day when I saw an article of a woman saying she was having her first child at 28, which was “still considered a little too young, but she would manage.”

    I’m 25 and having my first. When did 28 become too young?! Am I the new “teen mom”?! How old is old enough?! hahhaa

  • Jamie

    December 4, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    I’m really struggling with my 13 year old these days. The teen years and/or hormones are not making him a nice person to deal with at all. I’ve told my boys “I will always love you, but right now I don’t like you a lot.” and they understand! Too well maybe because they’ve said the same to me! My 10 year old even said he was glad it was okay for him to say that to me and that we can both feel like we don’t like each other at the moment. Wow, I was blown away. I love my boys, but dang, kids are a challenge to raise! I sometimes wonder if I’d have still made the decision to have children if I’d known how hard it would be. It would have been easier to just have dogs. I’m also 43, so while I feel like I waited until I was almost 30 to have my first, I’ve also got similar-aged friends with wee ones. I can’t even imagine starting the parenting journey in the last few years. Glad you wrote this!!

    • Mir Kamin

      December 5, 2014 at 9:38 am

      You know, I used to say “I will always love you but I don’t like you very much right now” and I realized that I was sending a message of unlikeability (totally a word!), if that makes sense. I changed it to, “I will always love you but I don’t like your behavior very much right now.” It’s a subtle shift but I think (hope) it keeps things more positive. My kids are very black and white thinkers so I have to be especially vigilant to avoid sending any message they could take as an indictment of their whole self, y’know? Just sharing.

      • Jamie

        January 7, 2015 at 3:12 pm

        That’s a great revision! I’m going to change mine up as well. Thanks!!

  • Kim T

    December 4, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    I am having such a hard time right now. This touched me so much. My kids are 12 and 14. Some days I don’t think the 14 year old is going to make it, other days I don’t think i’m going to make it. You’ve inspired me so much over the years. If for no other reason that you keep going on. I guess that’s the only option but thank you. 

    • Mir Kamin

      December 5, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Hang in there, Kim. I feel you (you know I do!) and just when you think you cannot possibly survive, something changes. It always does. xoxo

  • Matt

    December 4, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    I am the odd Dad on this thread. But much of what you ladies is saying is so true. I have two kids, a 16 year old son and a 4 year old daughter. I wish i was still young. Keeping up with my daughter is a challenge that I didn’t have with my son. I learned one thing though. 

    Every time you find yourself thinking, I can wait til they are able to do “x”, I have a simple response. Yes, you can. As they get older, you spend more time reflecting. It’s it hard, absolutely. It is so worth it. Find the strength within yourself and communicate with your kids. 

  • theresa

    December 6, 2014 at 12:13 am

    Wonderful post, although I am now more scared to have kids than ever!

  • Dawn

    December 9, 2014 at 8:36 am

    So this is what people with older kids are thinking!

    I am 33 and the a new first time mom of a 7 week old. Although I’m new at parenting, I’m not new at life, and I am a realistic, some would say pessimistic person, so I fully expect parenting to be a huge challenge full of unimaginable highs and lows. I found the perspective of this essay very reassuring.