“I love you!” I shouted in a panic from the kitchen.
“I love you, too!” My 6-year-old echoed from the other room.
Ok, I thought. All is well. But for a moment there, my mind had wandered — and panicked. It had moved forward to a time when assembling Mickey Mouse-shaped sandwiches will no longer be a part of my schedule. There’ll come a day when my kid will be older. My teenage son will order his own lunch and order me around, because according to reliable sources he’s going to grow up to hate me.
When I was pregnant, it never occurred to me the tiny baby growing in my belly would grow up to detest me. I was too busy looking for the nearest bathroom to think that far into the future. Luckily, as soon as my pregnant belly popped out, so did the unsolicited parenting advice. I’d never been met with such huge amounts of free information about my vagina and motherhood.
Standing in line for the bathroom at my local coffee shop, a mom I’d never met filled me in on the supposed truth: “Enjoy them while they’re little,” she began, “because once they get older, they’ll never love you again. Teenagers are the worst.”
I was stunned.
I tried to manage a sympathetic smile because I understood she was speaking from experience. Her tired eyes never left my eight-month-big pregnant belly. The frustration in her voice was unmistakable. Still, I felt so emotional from her “tip” that I excused myself from the bathroom line, waddled to my car, and burst into tears.
As a first-time mom, I’d taken to heart all the advice given to me by more experienced mothers. But inevitable future hatred? That was a piece of the puzzle I hadn’t considered. That was not the fate I wanted.
After my son was born, I was lost in a land of cuddles and drooly kisses. The idea that this effervescent little guy could ever hate me was as ridiculous a thought as getting six hours uninterrupted sleep. Nights of colic and then days of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse deepened our connection. As my son found his voice, I was treated to shouts of “Mom, you’re my favorite friend!” I was ecstatic. Clearly, that coffeehouse clairvoyant was a random event. It was also the one time my husband had been right: He’d reassured me that the bond I’d share with my son would be different. I felt a sense of relief.
But the prophecy returned.
As my son grew, so did friends’ children. These days, the information I’m receiving borders on morbid. My mom friends have started unloading their teenage angst on me. While I used to watch these moms play sweet games of catch with their little ones, now I hear how these parents are only catching massive amounts of attitude. I never doubted my choice to listen to the wisdom of other moms, but I’m wondering if I’m allowed to start going to mom lunch dates wearing earplugs? Frankly, I’m frightened.
“The other day my kid shouted, ‘I hate you!’” my friend told me, wasting no time in adding: “Your kid will say the same to you.”
I left that conversation feeling powerless to stop the scary foreshadowing. I’m doomed, I thought.
These mothers’ ability to predict my future has a deeply disturbing effect on me. My mind becomes caught up in the emptiness of what lies ahead, making my stomach feel too full in the here and now. I force myself to focus on my little guy in the present — the kid who just this morning begged to stay home from school, not because he was sick but because he misses me. How does that beautiful bond morph into disdain?
A my son grows into adulthood, I know he’ll become independent from me — no more hugs that leave my hair looking like I stepped out of a wind tunnel. I understand that my son will need to experience his individuality; after all, that’s a necessary element to his growing up. What unnerves me is people’s insistence that I’ll experience nothing less than a hostile severing of the loving bond I’ve built with my son.
Is hatred truly a necessary component of adolescence? I’m determined to find a clever way to escape this heartbreaking parental fate.
Plus, these parenting spoilers from friends have placed a pressure on my present-day parenting style. Maybe if I find the “right” way to parent, I can avoid getting my heart kicked to the curb by my future teenage son. Perhaps if I can avoid certain parenting pitfalls, my son will never need to shout, “I hate you!” while throwing his Mickey Mouse-shaped sandwich at my head.
So, I try new parenting tactics. I start hovering around my son. I’m overly focused on his actions, and he’s cool with it — because what 6-year-old doesn’t like getting a lot of attention? This seems like a logical way to keep our connection close, right? That is, until my kid says, “Mom, I can go the bathroom alone.” Oh, right.
So I give him more space. But then, he wonders why I’m avoiding him.
Because guess what: Trying to base your present parenting on the sole goal of avoiding heartbreak in the future is not a solid plan. The best I can do, really, is be the parent my kid needs in this current moment — and hope for the best.
If reading Greek tragedies has taught me anything (besides the fact the play Oedipus Rex is not about a dog) it was that it’s useless trying to fight our future. There’s not one magic way to mother my kid that will stop him from growing up, and how he does that is his choice and his alone.
Mothers who have gone before me have been there to offer their guidance. I cherish their wisdom. I think, though, I’m going to do myself a favor and let go of their teenage angst spoilers. Perhaps my kid will grow up and grow away from me, but that won’t stop me from putting all my heart into this parenting gig here and now — and from making him Mickey Mouse-shaped sandwiches at least until he leaves for college.
To make the teen years a little easier to navigate (and a lot more hilarious) check out our A to Z guide to teen slang.