I recently spent time around a table with some older and wiser mothers. Conversation soon turned to teenagers.
I envied my own budding members of this often maligned demographic, who sat on the hostess’ matching recliners, lost in competition on their iPhones, while the battle-worn women told of children morphing into angry, emotionally unstable – even abusive – teens.
“You never want to believe it will happen to you,” said one. “You never want to believe that your sweet child will change.”
Here’s the thing: I don’t believe it. Call me naïve; call me smug, but I do not believe my children will ever become the dreadful adolescent creatures described around that table. I’m clueless, I know. It’s the only way to be an optimist. I’m holding to my conviction even in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary. My son is often apathetic and entitled, rude and vulgar. Still, I’m in denial. I don’t believe my kids will become unpleasant in the same way that I don’t believe the economic sky is falling or that I’ll die from drinking aspartame.
Besides, most teenagers have a right to be surly. What if some middle-aged couple controlled your life?
To my own children, I can only offer my best. I might not be a cool mom, I won’t be your friend, but I pledge these humble oaths.
I promise to buy as much acne medication as I can afford.
My dear children, you have inherited not only your father’s enviable olive skin tone, but also his overzealous sebaceous glands. Your grandparents, who place Advil and Oxycontin in the same pharmaceutical category, did not believe in acne intervention. I will keep you benzoyl peroxide, crystals, and clarifying toner for as long as you need it.
I promise not to talk to your friends on social media.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll lurk, I’ll snoop, I’ll scrutinize and make decisions about your social life based on information I glean from your online networks (not to mention your text messages), but I will not engage your friends. I won’t comment on your status, poke your hotter peers, or tag you in pictures with your grandmother. (You’ll have to deal with her directly about her policy.)
I promise to let you have ugly hair.
In Peggy Sue Got Married, Nicholas Cage’s character Charlie says, “What’s the point of being a teenager if you can’t dress weird?” Same goes for hair. So go ahead, gorgeous daughter, get a Mohawk, see if I care. It’ll grow. Ditto for clothes and makeup. I draw the line at tats and facial piercing. Only after you’ve proven your long-term planning ability by sticking with a course of study long enough to earn a degree will you earn the right to make permanent decisions about body decor.
I promise to accept that you will have sex.
Eventually. But please, for the love of latex, do not let me catch you doing it. My son’s sex-education so far has consisted of abstinence-only propaganda and STD fear-mongering. I told him that I did not expect or recommend that he wait until marriage to have sex. I also told him that if he waited until he went [away] to college, I would send him with a crate of condoms.
I promise to pay for college.
Speaking of school, it’s on me. I may never let you forget the luxury you enjoy, but as long as I’m breathing and you’re studying, you’ll never have to wonder if you can really afford an education. Get good grades and don’t end up in an episode of Frat Boys Gone Wild, and I’ll pick up the tab. (If you really love me, you’ll stay off Greek Row entirely.)
I don’t ask much in return for all this. Just don’t be a jerk. And don’t turn me into one of those women sitting around a table in fifteen years lamenting, “You never want to believe it will happen to you.”