Raising a teenager is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and that’s saying a lot – because I’ve had a pretty difficult life.
From homelessness (my family had to live with relatives for a stint before ‘upgrading’ to a hotel – the same hotel where my uncle molested me at age 8); to hunger; to (repeated) expulsion from school for failure to pay school fees; to having to expel myself from university for an inability to pay tuition; to my rape at the hands of an Ohio DJ; to unemployment; to nearly dying from stress related angina during my first pregnancy (MOM readers know this story); to nearly dying from meningitis and most recently having an operation to remove a brain tumor – yes. Life for Malaka Grant nee Gyekye has been no stroll in the rose garden.
And yet, raising this one child during her teenage phase is the most difficult thing I have had to endure. I know, I know. “This too shall pass”, but I have another 6 years before the storm blows over.
I have always wondered about the evolution of the so-called Mommy Blog. Haven’t you? When the genre was at its zenith, we all took comfort in our similar shared experiences, documenting each exploding diaper, leaky boob and awkward post-partum romantic encounter with care. We celebrated milestones like baby’s first words and seethed over their first encounter with a bully. And then a strange phenomenon happens. Right around fourth grade, the mommy blogger’s updates become more infrequent. By seventh they’ve all but disappeared entirely. It’s a trend that I’ve noticed in my own writing and it’s only this week that I’ve discovered why.
By the time your child reaches age 13 (12.25 years old, really) the “cute” phase of motherhood is over: the nail firmly in the coffin and the box jettisoned at sea. Yeah, you thought operating on 3 hours of sleep – every day – was the hardest thing you’d ever have to endure, or colic was God’s way of testing the tensile strength of one’s sanity…but that’s the minor leagues. Give me a colicky, runny tummied, feverish baby. I’ll trade it for my teen any day. I can treat all those ailments with medication, fresh fruit or a saltine cracker or two. Gripe water’s got nothing for…whatever this is. Hopefully, someone can diagnose this Teeningitis before we all go mad.
My teen is perpetually angry. And it would be different if she had identifiable concerns, like homelessness or uncertainty about the future. I could empathize with those. But upon inquiry about what vexes her so much, the answer is always the same: “Nothing!”
Now, I’m a woman, so I know ‘nothing’ is never really nothing. So I ask indirect questions with the hope of arriving at the truth. And guess what I discover? There is actually nothing wrong in her life. She’s just being an asshole for the sake of it being a MonTuesWedThursFriDay. My response is to lock myself in my room. Hers is to do the same.
And then there’s the backtalk.
Did I mention picking fights with her siblings? As in: I hear laughter. That laughter is too loud. Let me see if I can go piss somebody else off and make them feel as miserable as I do. Success!
My God, let’s talk about the ingratitude. Nothing is ever good enough. If I had a sweatshop in the backyard where I worked as foreman and seamstress, the clothes will never be new enough. If I took the blanket from my bed and gave it to her, it would never be warm enough. I must now set my body on fire.
Perhaps I’ve told you about her funky l’il friends. You know who they are. You probably WERE a funky l’il friend, with your funky corrupting influence making mothers like me fret and fuss…
And on top of aaaaalllll this, is the lack of motivation. I can’t tell you what it does to me as a Black/African/Struggling mother to be responsible for having management over a child who works so diligently at accomplishing so little.
Of course, there’s more. The other dynamics behind the scenes have led me down dark mental pathways and drowning myself in regret. Propriety won’t allow me to divulge any of that. Perhaps that’s why mommy blogs vaporize. Nobody wants to read about this, let alone write about it.
And yet for all my complaints and for all the despair I feel, I know I am not alone. I’ve walked with mothers who have had to see their children through jail terms, mental illness, unexpected pregnancies, clinical depression, attempted suicide, struggling with their sexuality and sexual identity… Raising teens will force you to question, revisit and revise all of your belief systems. Every day, I have to interrogate how much I trust to trust God with my kid’s life. Where do my responsibilities end, and is it responsible of me to resign myself to the idea of what will be will be? There are so many forces competing for her attention – many of them negative – and I’m constantly fighting them off. The mental, physical and spiritual strain is constant. It does not abate.
Today, I asked a friend who’s youngest child is a year older than my oldest. She’s raised two adult children, both now stable in their careers and personal lives but who have also a few checkers in their past.
“I asked myself the same thing,” she said. “How did I get it right? You realize it’s only through the grace of God. You’re doing a good job so just ask for ‘strength Lord, just for today’. Tomorrow ask Him for the same thing.”