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With the exception of a few, most of my friends have younger children—pre-K through elementary school. They can't yet relate to my stories of parenting a teen. Many of them also have daughters, so my tales of parenting a high school boy seem like long way from where they are in their parenting journey, and actually a bit terrifying.
There's also this assumption that having a teen means I have more freedom to do things and that parenting is easier because a 15-year-old is more independent. Allow me to clear that up. Parenting doesn't ever get easier; it's just different. The joys and challenges we have as parents—at every stage—varies and evolves all the time. No two stories are the same. As our children grow, we continue to be faced with worries and challenges. It never stops.
When my son was little, he was the cutest little cuddly baby. He loved eating peaches, taking bubble baths and listening to soft music. It was the sweetest time in my life, but not without its difficulties. I suffered severe post-partum depression, and can still recall times that felt very dark and lonely. I was sleep deprived and exhausted, but fortunate to have such a loving family by my side to help me with "Alejandrito," which was the nickname my mother and grandmother gave my son based on his middle name.
There's this assumption that having a teen means I have more freedom to do things and that parenting is easier because a 15-year-old is more independent. Allow me to clear that up. Parenting doesn't ever get easier; it's just different.
As the fog lifted and the toddlers years rolled around, I do have to say that I felt like the luckiest mom around. My son did not go through the "terrible twos." I actually got to enjoy a mild-tempered toddler. However, I was in grad school and worked all the time, and I quickly learned that balancing motherhood with school and work was no easy mission. Keeping your interests as a woman and raising a little boy who just wants to play Hulk's hands after an exhausting day is what makes motherhood such a delicate journey. Your dreams and guilt do not play well with each other.
As the years went by and school became part of everyday life, I started to learn more and more about the opposite sex through my son. I saw how society forces boys to mask their emotions, the important roles fathers play on their self-esteem, how they look to their moms (or other women in their life) for nurturing and understanding, and how the education system sometimes overlooks their particular needs. Knowing this, I made it a point to have a very open and candid relationship with my son so that we talked about many things.
One minute you're buying Harry Potter costumes for the school parade, the next you're talking about drugs, sex, porn and violence.
Photograph by Rachel Matos
I wanted him to see that I was human too, and that he can come to me for anything. Does he? No. I'm still "mom." But he knows I'm always here for him. Do I want to hear everything he tells me? Not really. But that's part of the parenting journey. One minute you're buying Harry Potter costumes for the school parade, the next you're talking about drugs, sex, porn and violence. My son's elementary and middle school years seem like they were a nine-year long boot camp in parenting, to prepare me for the high school years.
The sweet little cuddly baby is now 15 years old and a high schooler. This is the time you hope that you did an OK job when they were younger because puberty has a funny way of expressing those voids. I've done all I could to work from home so that I can be there when he gets home from school. I still think it's important that he can come home and share his day with me. Although my son is a lot more independent, he's a teen. They need their parents on a very deep and emotional level. And for a teen, that can be anything from venting about their favorite football player being traded to their first heartbreak.
It also means just being around even if they don't want to talk to you. It requires you to step up your game when it comes to communication and listening, while strengthening your patience and understanding at the same time. You must be present and attuned to what is being said and not said, much like when they're babies and toddlers. However, each chapter in the book of parenting has its own set of complexities, making it simply different as the years go by.