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Motherhood

Raising A Teen Is The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done

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.”

 

This article has 8 comments

  1. Biche | ChickAboutTown.com

    Hi Malaka,

    I can’t give you any insight from a mother’s perspective because as you know, I am not a mother, but what I will offer you is insight from the perspective of an angry female 12 year old child.

    When I was 12, out of the blue, I started to suffer from what I now call “The Rage”. I had a deep seething anger that simply took over me. I was not angry at anyone in particular, nor anything, but my entire being was consumed with anger (not at all my general disposition before or after). This lasted for a little over a year, and then as abruptly as it arrived, it disappeared…and I became normal again.

    In my twenties, I came across a picture of me hitting my younger brother on the head with my knuckles during the period of “The Rage”. My mother happened to be nearby, so I explained to her that seeing that picture sadly reminded me of the year or so when I suffered from “The Rage”. My mother was amused…apparently she doesn’t remember this time particularly (thank GOD!), and so I got to thinking more about that time in my life, especially trying to unpack it and understand it.

    I promise: even with all the wisdom of age, I cannot tell you what I was enraged about. It truly was ‘nothing’. I think it might have been hormonal or something.

    So…perhaps with your daughter, it is nothing external. How to deal with that? Well, that’s for all you mothers to figure out. 🙂

    I hope this is somewhat helpful to you. 🙂

    Biche

    • Mbu Waindim

      LOL Biche! I know you weren’t talking to me, but NO. No it isn’t somewhat helpful.

      My sister had a phase like this and I was happily reading along to figure out the explanation for this shenanigans because unlike your mother, I remember all too well!

      Please reflect again and come back with more.

      • Malaka Gyekye Grant

        I feel you. After aaaall that reading, I was hoping Biche would provide some sort of insight. Wrong!

        I know for me, my parents sent me to boarding school. That’s the only thing that helped get us all through. It’s a bit early for that, but I’m open to the option. Maybe you were sent away from home and that’s why your mom doesn’t recall the agony you put her through?

        • Biche | ChickAboutTown.com

          Malaka,

          Just for you I brought up this topic with my mother today.

          No, she didn’t send me away…I never left home for school until I went to college.

          She says: She believes children need space to do them. For her, as long as she knew a child was safe and well-provided for, and didn’t have a real problem that needed attending to by her, she didn’t spend energy dealing with their moods. (As her child, I can attest that this is a true story.) She said that as long as a child was not harming themselves or those around them, they were very welcome to be moody and sulk in their own space. (The way she would ignore you when you tried to do it in hers, even YOU would know you were better off taking it to your room where you could properly brood and at least take yourself seriously! 😆 )

          She says the trick for her was in keeping herself busy and practicing good self-care so that she didn’t overly focus on her children (for half my childhood my mother was a stay-at-home Mom, which frustrated her quite a bit, and during the other half she worked full-time).

          Inevitably, she said, the phases would pass and as you can see, she was barely aware of them at all.

          As for when an angry, teenage child decided to pick on her (usually) younger siblings, this is when I would recall my mother breaking her rule of never hitting us with her bare hands. She would join the fray on the side of the younger children.

          I ASSURE you, no child of hers was courageous enough to repeat that three times. 😆 She would give clear edicts about what could or couldn’t be done to “her children” and the angry child understood that if she ever tried that again, my Mom would treat the angry child not as “her child” but as “the attacker” of her children. It would put you in your place real QUICK!

          But…as I said, as abruptly as it started for me, it ended a little over a year later. By the time I was 14 and my school friends were calling me to go “hang out” while I was talking to my Mom, I would be so torn about what to do because, on one hand, I wanted to go out and do “cool” teenage things but on another hand, chatting with my mother was so SWEET that I could barely pull away. I remember at that time telling her that she was truly my best friend.

          So…take heart, it might pass sooner rather than later.

          Ok, I am hoping this time my response was a little more useful! 🙂

          B.

          • Malaka Gyekye Grant

            I’m so touched that you went back and consulted with your mother over your experience. And even more so that she took the time to detail her process with such care!

            Some of these things I definitely already implement, (like don’t treat MY child that way) and others I will certainly make a concerted effort to do better with. I tend to over analyze and project fears that never manifest and it’s not helpful. Much love to you and yours!

      • Biche | ChickAboutTown.com

        Hi Mbu,

        Trust me, I have reflected about this over and over again, and I specifically reflected more about it since you gave me the challenge yesterday to reflect again. It’s something that happened TO ME…sort of like when you get sick. I couldn’t find a reason for it then, and even with 20/20 hindsight I haven’t been able to come up with another reason for it other than the one I offered above. Sorry! 🙂

        With your sister, did it go on for a long time?

        • Mbu Waindim

          Yes. Thank you for going back to consult for us. With my sister I think it started to fade when she was about 15. So about 3-4 years? My parents definitely noticed. Everyone noticed. *And* we were already at boarding school. She was more reasonable at school but during holiday breaks?!

          I’d have to make her go back and think about those years of her life. Although I’d admit, thinking about it as “something that happened to” her/you/Malaka’s daughter is rather consoling.

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