Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Terrible Twos vs. Terrible Teens

My daughter just turned seventeen, and I'm fairly stunned. We all joke "Where did the years go?" But, I really want to know. 

Where did the years go?

When she was little, we had this marvelous pediatrician. He had a few topics about which he was absolutely passionate. Bicycle helmets, for example — not only was my daughter required to wear one, but my husband and I were supposed to as well. 

I remember one annual check-up when he coached my daughter on what to do if a friend ever offered to show her "Daddy's gun." The solution was to feign a stomach ache and insist on calling Mommy for a ride home. 

The single most useful thing this doctor taught me was to choose my battles. My daughter was about to turn two (as in "terrible ...") and I was warned to "Say 'No' only if you mean it and you're going to stick with it. If that means saying 'Yes' 99 percent of the time, so be it. If you say 'No," and she cries for 45 minutes and then you say 'Yes,' you've just trained her to cry for 45 minutes."


We were really good at it. In fact, we congratulated ourselves fairly frequently about our fabulous parenting finesse. Granted, we did say "Yes" more often than not. But, our daughter never abused that affirmative attitude. She was sweet and compliant. She followed rules: happily took her bath and went to bed on time each night; ate her fruits and vegetables; tidied her room, neatly grouping Barbies ("Mommies"), Kelly dolls ("Sweeties") and a handful of Kens ("Daddies," of course) into brightly covered canvas drawers. Tantrums were blessedly few and far between. 

The only hiccup we had was potty training, and even that resolved itself in fairly short order, once she was ready. A single weekend of M&Ms (hooray for bribery) and we were done.

While she was going through her not-so-terrible twos, I was terribly busy. I commuted into Boston every day and was on the road often, servicing a couple of major ad agency clients out on the West Coast. My terrific toddler took it in stride. Our time together most evenings and on the weekends (Saturday mornings at Gymboree) made up for the hours she was with her nanny.

It was all so easy.

So, my next question (after "Where did the years go?") is this. Do moms of teens have some form of amnesia? Like the way new mothers forget the excruciating pain of labor as soon as that wet little bundle is put into their arms. Was it as easy as I recall or am I looking back through memory's rose-colored glasses. Who knows?

What I do know is that it ain't so easy anymore.

Part of our back-then success was definitely maintaining a routine and setting rules. Neither of these seems remotely possible now. Between high school and two part-time jobs, riding and competing in horse shows, and fulfilling myriad social obligations, my daughter's schedule is anything but routine. Now that she can drive herself (and soon her friends as well, Lord help me!), I have very little control over where she is and when. All I can do is feign some iota of control and authority by insisting "Don't be too late." Or asking "Is all your homework done?"

As far as rules are concerned, there weren't many to begin with and those that were in place are ... well ... pretty much ignored. To my credit (I guess), I do still try to choose my battles. My daughter hasn't been in any trouble (I'll try not to say "Yet"). Her grades are good. She's relatively polite to her elders. Not always to me, maybe, but certainly to her grandmothers and other grownups.

When I bristle at some behavior or feel the need to assert some sort of authority, I have to think about it. Am I pulling rank because she's making a poor choice? Or am I merely trying to recreate a time when I was the only adult in the relationship? 

She has a major goal right now: to achieve independence. I know that, I really do. And, although she would be the last to admit it, I am trying.

It's tough. In fact, at times, it's terrible.

But, I'll look on the bright side. At least she's potty trained.

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