"Jack, I think I'm having a mid-life crisis."
"Oh Mom, you're way too old to be having a mid-life crisis."
That's my son Jack. Living with him is like living with a teenage Don Rickles. He lives to diss me. Jack's dissing started when he was around 10 or 11. I was driving him home from school one lovely October afternoon and I noticed that some of the neighbors already had their Halloween decorations up:
"Jack, it's time to get our Halloween decorations out."
"Oh Mom, we don't need all of that. Why don't you just go stand outside."
I wasn't quite sure I heard him correctly. I looked over and there he was, with that sly smile on his face like he just scored big time. I burst out laughing. I couldn't help it. It was funny. A royal diss, but funny.
It's much easier to take the disses when they are funny verses when they are mean spirited, or intended to hurt. And you will most likely get one or both of those types of comments from your teen at some point along with the run-of-the-mill critiques.
Once on our way to middle school we were having a perfectly fine time, or so I thought, chatting and enjoying the scenery. There was a patch of silence when he said, "Geez Mom, do you have to breathe like that?"
So how does one handle the inevitable teen angst that will, by virtue of proximity, spill off into your direction from time to time? Here's some things that have helped me:
1) Laugh It Off If You Can.
With the understanding that this too shall pass, if your teen is just venting angst, than it's OK to just laugh it off and let them vent. Remember, they feel safest with you to express their innermost feelings.
2) Be aware of Their "Why."
Understanding someone's motivation can really help in dealing with their subsequent behavior. When it comes to your teen, their entire job in life, other than to go to school and eat mass quantities, is to separate and individuate from you, the parent. Part of doing that requires them to see you as a person and not just Mommy or Daddy. In order to do that they need to take you off the pedestal they had you on when they were little. That can be painful for us parents. What happened to our adoring child? Now they notice every little fault and take great joy in pointing them out.
This is part of what teens need to do and it's healthy for them. It's not fun to be on the receiving end of but if you can realize it's healthy and that your child is on the right path, then it makes it easier to get through.
3) You Can Still Discipline Them
If your teen goes too far, you can set limits. It's one thing if they are being funny, having a hormone surge, noticing just how stupid you are or one of the many "normal" things teens do. It's quite another if they are testing limits to see just how much they can get away with before you step in to stop them. If they are going too far, step in by all means. They need you to do that for them. They are too old for time outs but there are teen equivalents you can use.
4) Treasure the Sweet Moments
For me, there would be brief breaks from the surging hormones when Jack would be his old, goofy, loving self and we would have some sweet mother/son time. Those brief moments felt like being lost at sea and catching a glimpse of land off in the distance. It would disappear almost immediately, but I learned to treasure and hold onto those moments to carry me through the rough times. You might want to write some down as they happen so you can refer to them when you need them.
5) This Too Shall Pass
I still walk by Jack's elementary school in the mornings when I go out to exercise. It seems like just a couple of years ago that Jack, our dog Cody and I used to walk there together each morning. Jack would run off into school and Cody and I would go on and do our walk together.
Cody died in July and Jack is 18 now and about to leave home. It went very fast. So even though I know when you are in the thick of it, it feels like it will never end, it really will. And I think when I look back, some of those teen days will be "the good old days."