Having a preteen child can be a wonderful experience in so many ways. You get to see your baby grow into a young adult, complete with their own hopes, dreams, and deep insights. Many days, I want to bask in the sheer magnificence of it all. It almost feels like I deserve a big round of applause for simply bringing this person into the universe.
Then, there are some days when it’s brutal. F’n brutal.
I don’t even mean that in the comedic Family Circus way either. People talk about the anguish that sometimes comes with parenthood and it conjures up images of an adorable kid surrounded by an overturned tray of food with a cheeky word bubble reading, “Me sowwy, Daddy.” Aw. You just want to pinch those tiny cheeks.
Alas, no. Those types of sentiments can be saved for the funny papers, because in real life, kids are people. And people can be infuriating.
It’s almost impossible to explain some of these things to a person who doesn’t have a twelve-year-old of their own. As your child grows, they test boundaries and push limits. They strive to see what works, what doesn’t, and what gets a reaction. It delves into some pretty harsh and territory.
I think to myself, “If anyone heard what this kid just said just said to me or saw how she just acted, they’d freak out.” I think of comments that, if uttered from behind my own thirteen-year-old teeth back in the early ’90s, would have left me with no teeth to speak through. My brain is filled with a flood of “when I was your age” examples.
I don’t react that way, though. You shouldn’t either. That’s not how the world works. If you are disrespectful to your boss, he doesn’t beat you up. So it’s a false lesson that doesn’t serve anyone. Lashing out doesn’t fix the issue. For me, as a dad, it’s about teaching my kid why she needs to act appropriately and how not doing so will screw up her life as she gets older.
So, yeah, she’s pretty crappy sometimes. Intermixed with all the sweet sentiments and graduation flower ceremonies are some nasty remarks that can stun me speechless for a variety of reasons.
For starters, they come out of nowhere. They are almost never due to an underlying conflict or sense of anger. They are from raging hormones and often a misconstrued attempt at humor. Excitedly, I will tell her about something good that happened to me and, deadpan, she’ll say “OK. No one cares” or something worse to be jerky for the sake of being jerky. She examines my face upon her response and the second she can tell it affects me, jumps into apology mode. I get bombared with a ton of sorries. It can be tiring.
The apologies, however, don’t always come. There are lots of times when she might double down, get meaner, and see how far she can push it. That’s where the real inner conflict on my own part comes in. It’s when I have to go against human nature.
Most of us aren’t used to pointedly telling someone that they’ve hurt our feelings. That’s not how the world spins. Half of us are passive/aggressive and the other half are aggressive/aggressive. Sure, you might be some Dr. Phil-like robot who can sit down with a rude friend and say, “Listen, pal, you really hurt me when you didn’t invite me to your birthday party and then talked about it in front of me. I wanted you to know that.” That would be the mature thing to do. We all know we’re supposed to do that. But, come on, how many times is that the way you genuinely handle it?
More likely, though, you stopped returning their calls or hooked up with that girl they like. Be honest. We’re not all shiny happy people here. Our friends can be crappy. They know what they did, need to get to steppin’, and it’s not your job to teach ‘em. They gone!
When it’s your kid, though, you can’t do that, because, well, they might not know what they did, aren’t getting to steppin’ anywhere, and it is your job to teach ‘em. You have to do the most unnatural thing on the planet. You need to really sit down and explain how and why they hurt your feelings. It can feel awkward and uncomfortable. Ironically, it can even feel selfish…when it’s the most selfless thing you can do.
The reason why it’s selfless is because you’re actually doing it for them. It would be easier to just lock the door, ignore them for the day, and spend their forgotten birthday Amazon gift cards on Xbox games for yourself. After all, they have it coming, little wieners. But, in reality, you need to raise your kids to be strong adults. You need to be the guidance in their lives. Without you, no one else will do it and, by the time they grow up, they’ll be homeless on the streets lamenting how you never told them not to tell their boss, landlord, and arresting officer, “Shut up, you stupid! I hate you!”
It’s another one of those parenting moments they don’t cover in the handbook that they don’t hand out but should. At your must vulnerable moment, you have to be even more vulnerable, and tell a kid with fluctuating emotions why your personal feelings are important. It’s just as uncomfortable as it sounds. Most of us want to just sulk under a blanket.
You do it, though. You do it for them and you do it for society. You do it because it’s your job to make them grow up to be better than you are. All our children are works in progress and you have 18 years to perfect your masterpiece before unleashing them on the world. If you don’t build them right, someone else will tear them down and, when they do, it’ll be much harder to glue the pieces back together.
Sure, it’s awkward and uncomfortable, but in case you haven’t figured it out, parenthood is awkward and uncomfortable. I love her with all my heart so making her the best she can be should always be my top priority. I know the best she can be and it’s my job to make sure the rest of the world does too.