Midlife Parenting: What I wish I had known about teenagers before I had children

I love and adore my teenage son. At 16, he’s wiser and more thoughtful than I ever was during my romance, makeup and fashion fueled teen years. He makes me proud every day. But, largely due to his insatiable appetite and underdeveloped teenage frontal cortex, he also makes me mad.

If someone had told me what life will be like with a teenage child, would I have changed my mind about having children? Likely not, but all the same, it would have been very nice if someone had told me a few home truths about them.

They eat. A lot. 

Remember when you used to teach your baby to eat solids? They’d have a few spoons of goo (mainly all over their face and on your kitchen walls) and that’d be it. Your food bill would remain pretty much unaffected. 

Some 13 years later you find yourself shopping for food every day and then: You load the fridge, turn around for a few seconds and—gone! A whole carton of milk, a block of cheese, a loaf of bread, seven bananas, a dozen eggs and half a cow, all gone. 

They suffer from what seems an incurable yet highly selective amnesia

They are very good at remembering certain things, such as the amount of their weekly allowance, names of their favourite YouTubers and places that sell the best burgers. 

But somehow that ability doesn’t stretch to other things, often to do with household chores and cleaning up after themselves. 

No matter how many times I show my son where we keep the laundry basket, he seems to think that his room, in fact, is his laundry basket. If he remembers where the basket is, he doesn’t seem to know, how to use it: Instead of opening the lid, he carefully places his clothes on the lid. Also, dishes are similarly found on the kitchen side, very close to the dishwasher. 

Suggested reading: Diagnosis: Midlife – Wait…What?!

They don’t like getting up in the mornings

Teenagers need a lot of sleep, understandably: They are growing, their brains are developing, they’re taking in a lot and they’re navigating the complex world of peer relationships. Must be hard. 

However, they do not seem to believe in sensible bedtimes. Instead, especially at weekends, they stay up regularly until the crack of dawn and—as a result—sleep in until way past midday. How hard is it to go to bed at a reasonable hour?

(We shouldn’t be too hard on them though as it’s not only the amount of sleep that matters. Teenagers’ body clocks run a little differently from other people so that many teens find it difficult to fall asleep before 11 PM.) 

Be prepared to repeat yourself (and accept that it won’t help)

“Don’t forget to pack your trunks,” I told my son last time we were packing to go on a holiday. “I won’t,” he replied and carried on pack… I mean playing on his computer. 
“Don’t forget to pack your trunks,” I said a little later, suspecting that he hadn’t started his packing yet.
“I won’t, I already told you so,” he replied, a little annoyed with his fussing mother, and carried on playing on his computer.
“Don’t forget to pack your trunks,” I said, 15 minutes before were we due to be out of the door, and continued: “And if you’ve not started packing yet, now would be a good time.”
“Ok, ok! Stop nagging, I know what I’m doing.”

A little later on our way to the airport:
“Did you remember your trunks?”
“Nope.”

You will barely see them

Peers—not the family— are your teenager’s most important reference group. It’s essential, as the main goal of parenting, after all, is to eventually let them go and see them fly, but sometimes it makes me a little blue. Those years when I was his favourite person went by all too quickly. 

Even though it will seem for a few years as if your teenager is almost allergic to you, don’t worry. It will pass once they have had time and space to discover their own skills and tastes.

They absolutely rock your world

To witness someone you’ve known from birth to become their own person, a unique individual with their own values, interests and thoughts about the world is probably the most beautiful thing you will ever experience. 

Are you already an empty nester?

Have your babies already moved out? What is that like? You can tell us about your life as an empty nester either using this story form, or by sending us an email at mystory@midlifespace.com. We’d love to hear your story and share it with the community!