It is terrible to espouse an opinion on a parent of a toddler and a teenager. And I will tell you why; the parent of a toddler knows how it feels to be in the public eye of a storm when your toddler screams in a toyshop for adding one more toy to their existing collection of barbie dolls or hot wheel cars. The toddler cries inconsolably on a flight or in a movie theatre as if you have stabbed the baby in the back for restricting their movement. All you want to do at that point is to drown yourself in a handful of water. The crowd witnessing this will fix you with an inquisitorial stare, like what did you do so wrong? What kind of merciless parent are you? Why can’t you buy another toy? Experienced parents know how it is to just give in and get over it. Give in to their ask and the gentle smile will quiver at the edge as if nothing happened. You were just being a difficult parent.
To be a parent of a teenager is no different. A parent of a teenager also knows how it feels to be in the public eye of a storm when the young lad decides not to acknowledge the presence of a guest at home or a party. As a parent you want to give them a sense of right and wrong when a strange “you know nothing, I know everything” kind of smirk covers their face.
“If your teenager is not perennially protesting everything and speaking with hair-raising honesty to put you under shame and shock then, my dear, you are doing nothing wrong. This is part and parcel of the toughest job known to mankind called Parenting.”
A trip down memory lane
I and my sister had to meet my sister’s friend for a movie. I don’t know why but we decided to take our nephew with us. This little brat was overhearing the conversation I had with my sister in the car and once we reached the theatre, he saw my sister’s friend and blurted out everything I ever said. With a straight face, he says, “she doesn’t like you at all. She thinks you are silly, and you have a pathetic dressing sense”. He looked at me carefully, with all his forensic feelers out to acknowledge the honest statement being made. I didn’t know how to react. I stood there, enveloped by silence until I became aware of the theatre lights closing on me. The sheer shock of the moment is ingrained in my memory. Since then, I start shaking like jelly if any honest statement is being said about anyone in the presence of a teenager.
Toddlers and teenagers have a devilish charm. While their vile honesty and barrage of questions can scare the daylights out of you, as a parent, you love yet abhor every phase of children growing up because each phase comes up with its own set of hits and misses, mistakes and learning. As we watch them bumble their way through new things, new experiences and new learnings. The caterpillars are adding colours and strength to their wings as one fine day they would fly away from the nest.
Parenting children was never an easy job. Worst still, there is no method, no procedure, no technique, and no win-win formula. As a parent, we are always caught in a dilemma of whether we are doing it right. Our generation of parents has been conditioned to work with an SOP (Standard operating procedures) and we feel parenting should be no different than a task at hand. Our parents’ generation was different in a way that they took parenting organically. They didn’t operate with loud affirmations of love but we knew that we mattered. There’s a reason why my elder sister and brother, all in their 40s now, still like to have a heart-to-heart discussion with our parents. With my mother, I have never feared judgement. I know I will be accepted, no matter what I do. Even now if I goof up, I know I can confide in her.
“Bending over backwards to take a more nuanced position on the issue, I feel maybe we are trying too hard to be good parents, trying too hard to mark everything on a checklist. Parenting was always a matter of the heart.”
Simple things like respecting your teenager’s opinion, and making them feel valued are important. Maybe tacit encouragement towards their small efforts would be a step in the right direction. My advice, although not expressed so laconically, would be that there’s no substitute for the time we spend with them and the memories we conjure over holidays, play dates, and fun activities that we do together. They learn what they see. Be it discipline, hard work, sincerity, good habits or self-care.
“The sagacity and wisdom of your years know that they are becoming great human beings and they will find a way, just like we did.”
Suggested reading: Conversation With Parents: How 2022 Had Kids Parenting Them