I’ve heard that it can be easier to raise boys during the teenage years, and watching most of my friends with their sons leads me to suspect this might be true. While boys are rowdy and dangerous and slightly smelly during their little-kid years, our daughters took baths and read books and held our hands as we shopped together. Boys – got into the margarine and the baby powder and ran out into traffic. Girls – talked our ears off and dealt with school-yard drama on a daily basis.
Now those same boys play sports or instruments and write sweet notes to their long-suffering mothers, and those of us with daughters have only begun our journey into the true slings and arrows of parenthood. These years, ages 13-18, can be the most harrowing and uniquely painful to mothers of girls.
Why do I say that? I firmly believe that anyone with a teenage daughter has felt the sting, the pang, the outright onslaught of emotion. There is distrust, there is fiery passion, there is insolence and sometimes panicky rage. And all of that just before bedtime! Both our daughters have felt a new breath of energy and emotion just as we are ready to go to sleep.
And then there are days when I find coffee, freshly prepared and ready for me, plus a little note and smiley face. There are days we laugh together at the same show, or we turn up the volume on a song we both love. Raising a teenage daughter is a whiplash ride on a teeter-totter, and neither of us is truly in control.
Offers of help can be met with suspicion, or accepted with great thanks and appreciation. Cat-like, they sweetly gather close to us – then (metaphorically or literally) hiss and dart away. Perhaps because I have been so close to both of our girls, maybe due to the military’s fickle willingness to allow us to all live together, this is especially painful. The ties are closer, the bond is stronger, and this is the time during which she must tear away and find her own identity and separateness from us.
And oh, Lord, sometimes it really hurts. The occasional snide disdain, the glance of “who are you?”, the casual shoulder-shrug that says “don’t touch me” – these are the ‘thousand natural shocks’ that Hamlet described. Like abuse victims, we hang in there during the rough moments because we have such faith that the sweeter days are just around the corner. Sometimes, the sweeter times follow on just moments after the barb is fired!
This is our second time around with the outrageous swing and fall of raising a teenage girl. With Big G, our difficult times began earlier, but also seemed to be less passionately negative. Maybe my memory glosses it over. We loved her through it, and then as she began transforming into her own funny and unique self again, we loved (and liked) her more. This time around is both more difficult and yet somehow easier than before – though the road is rough and the weather unpredictable, we have a feeling for what is on the other side of the journey if we can but hang on long enough to endure the ride.
I think about my mother’s blessing, that is also a curse, wishing my children were just like me. Some days I think this girl is my reward, and other days my penance. I am reminded of Hamlet’s frustrations with Ophelia, too: ‘Nymph, in thy orisons. Be all my sins remembered’. All my sins? Am I to pay for them this way?
Then the day changes, and a new morning comes. There is a coffee cup with “Mom” and a smiley. Or she has rocked an audition and flies through her day. Or there is some sign of the little girl we loved, the woman she will be, and we remember this is a journey and not a destination. We don’t get stuck in teenager-ville forever. This too shall pass.