There’s a lesson that is told in most cultures. In Canada, it’s about the weather: Wait a minute and it will change. Or, most everywhere on the good or bad in life; “This too shall pass.” All are so true. Right now, our family is going through both some ups and downs. I try to remember the latter adage during the “down” periods and not expect the “up” ones to always last.
Sticking with the clichéd sayings, there is another that is credited to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s mother that goes something like, “The only happy people I know are people I don’t know well.” Think about it. When you know someone well, you usually know his or her troubles. When you don’t, you invariably get the proverbial answer “Good” or “Terrific” to the greeting “How are you?”
So, to beat a dead horse, and keep this cliché-ridden streak going, there’s another saying, paraphrased since I don’t remember it exactly, “I wouldn’t trade my problems for yours any day” and most of us wouldn’t if we knew what “your” problems were!
Right now, I’m going through some challenges with my older teen who sees life as one big problem. If he weren’t taking it so seriously, I would be laughing as my longer life has taught me the wisdom of the cliché that “This too shall pass.” I know his angst will pass and his “Why bother?” and “There’s no point” attitude will change. But, he doesn’t know much beyond what is in front of his face and that is the curse of parenting teens. They can be pretty darn dramatic and sometimes that drama manifests itself in destructive behavior.
Another old saw is “What goes around, comes around” and this comes to mind given the horrible times I gave my parents when I was a teen. My mother often said something to the effect, “if you can survive the teens years (as a parent), you might experience all the joy you’re giving us now that you’re an adult.” And, to close out the corny sayings, I’ll supply my own about the job of parenting a teen: “Just keep them alive; there’s nothing more you can do since they won’t listen anyway.”
That is my main goal with my older son now. I think he listens to me sometimes, but most of it apparently goes in one ear and out the other (will the clichés ever stop?) as he explicitly told me recently in a candid moment. While I want to share all the wisdom I have to offer, I also have to accept that he will just have to learn many of the same things I learned, but on his own, at his own pace, and I can’t protect him from many of the hurts that are likely coming his way.
I can do my best to be sure that he survives this period by insuring that he’s not driving drunk, that he isn’t doing drugs by indiscriminately testing him now and then, and by monitoring who he hangs with and where he goes. The problem with doing all of this is that I will not be his favorite person much of the time. As a parent, that is the most difficult aspect of parenting our teens. Doing what is best for them isn’t usually doing what makes them like you best!
I am preaching to my own choir with this revelation, as I often know what is best for me, but disregard it. A simple example is the 15 pounds I gained a year ago, after my ski accident. For the first time in my life, I’m carrying a gut around and it isn’t going away! For the first time in my life, I can’t get rid of it by a little extra exercise and a little less eating.
The doctors actually think that my accident, which included a head injury, might have actually changed my metabolism or “set point” which is the theoretical weight that we each are programmed to have. If true, that apparently means my usual ways of losing those few extra pounds won’t work anymore, as they haven’t, so far. Further, that means I might actually have to really diet.
This is like my son, who may hear what’s best for him and choose not to follow that advice. I know what is best for me now concerning eating and I’m choosing not to follow my own advice. So, why do I expect him to listen to me? What a ubiquitous parental irony, or parental hypocrisy, of asking of our kids what we can’t do ourselves? I know this example is not exactly “on point” but it’s close enough that you may get my point.
All of which brings me back to the title of this column, “Wait a minute and it will change.” My teen will grow up, more than likely. He will survive his teen stubbornness. He will actually develop an adult brain capable of making rational and less self-centered choices and decisions. And, I may actually get him back again, meaning the sweet, lovable boy he once was. We’ll see.