My youngest daughter turns fifteen in 21 days, 22 hours, 16 minutes and 41 seconds. I know this because I have been counting down the days for a little over six months now. It is with keen anticipation that I look forward to saying, “Good riddance 14, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!” because if there’s an “official” worst age for girls, 14 is it.
I may not have reams of laboratory data to back up my claim that fourteen is the worst age for girls, but I do have field research. I have been in the trenches with fourteen twice, and in an astounding lack of pre-planning, less than 21 months apart. That means that I barely had two years to recover getting one daughter through fourteen, before I did it all over again. Please, for the love of your sanity young mothers, do not make my mistake. Space them out.
Before I go any further, I need to say I have mad respect for this kid. She’s positively kick-ass in everything she does, has a strong identity, and stands firm with her personal boundaries. She also scares me you guys. Like, really scares me.
Over the last year, I have been conditioned to always be on guard. Shoulders hunched up, eyes squinched tight, always waiting for the mood to shift suddenly and without warning. I’ve learned to not even trust the seemingly quiet moments — we’re good, we’re good, we’re good, BAM! We are so not good. I swear, I did not even change the pace of my breathing, but suddenly I am public enemy #1.
And I know it’s not her fault. We are dealing with thousands of years of evolution here people. The universe is not handing me some cosmic dish of karma because of my teen years. Teen girls are the victim of their own hormones, a brain imbalance that causes them to have the impulse control of a four year old (second worst age by the way), and an instinctive need to push their parents away as a way to gain their own independence. It’s quite literally out of their hands.
Even Ava will look at me sometimes mid-stream as if to say “Help me, I’m trapped inside this person I can’t control” and then, poof, that self-awareness is gone. It’s beyond hard, but I have learned a few things just in time to never have to parent a 14 year old again. Parenting is funny that way, not in a ha-ha that’s hilarious kind of way, but in a too bad you didn’t know this going in kind of way.
So in an attempt to save just one future mom a few brain cells, here are a few of my key learnings as I come through the hardest teen year ever.
- Pick your battles. As a slightly neurotic adult, I’ve got 50 years of coping mechanisms in place. I could quite literally nitpick at her from the time she opens her eyes until she goes to bed, but that only creates resentment. Also, it’s helpful to question if you’d want someone doing this to you all day? I now let her questionable organizational skills slide, and focus on making sure she feels loved. Ultimately, as parents, this is really our only job.
- I started to ask, “Do you want me to listen or do you want my advice?”, and that one little shift has had a dramatic effect on our relationship, because sometimes she just needs a safe place to vent without my opinion. Still, I am genuinely encouraged that about 80% of the time, she asks for my advice.
- I stopped treating her like a child, and ooof, this one gets me right in the feels. It’s so damn hard to let your children turn into adults, but it’s absolutely critical to let them fail, make them accountable, and ignore them when they could do it on their own.
- Take it and shut up. This was perhaps the hardest one for me to swallow, but I have learned that even when the most hurtful things are thrown my way, it’s because I’ve created a space safe enough for her to do so. I take a walk, get space of my own, and inevitably by the time I’ve returned, the storm has passed.
I don’t want to create illusions; there is no magic faucet that gets turned off at 15. That being said, the spaces of calm as we approach it, are stretching out. The “dark months” as we now call them, that consumed us from January to March are now a fuzzy memory. The other day, she even asked me out on a coffee date, temporarily placing me back in cool status. As I sat across from her listening to her plans —short, medium, and long-term— I was in awe of her beauty, her wisdom, and her truth. Then it struck me, maybe I’ll stop counting down the days now.