Life On the Other Side

The Surprising Way Parents’ Memories Protect Teens

Looking at small babies, it is easy to think only of the positives. I remember the quiet times: the cozy cuddles, the soft pats, the sweet coos, that unmistakable baby smell. I don’t let my mind go to the shrill screams, the smell of the diaper pail, the sleepless nights. The positive memories very much outweigh the negative ones. I have started to wonder if there is a biological, perhaps even a survival mechanism built in here. Maybe all that sweetness is meant to taper the chaos and heartache of living with a teenager.

Remember how young you looked? How beautiful your hair was? How content you were in those pictures as a brand new mamma? (Because back then, everyone didn’t have a smartphone, so the few pictures of you that exist were taken on special occasions.) What do you see in the mirror nowadays? You aren’t exactly tired, but there are lines and gray hairs, You may look weary. What is different? You now live with a teenager.

You have been tricked. As that baby grew, he or she continued to be charming (if not on a regular basis, at least often enough). Yes, there were sleepless nights and battles of will, but overall, adorableness reigned. You were thrilled as he learned to talk, mesmerized as she took her first steps. You cried on the first day of kindergarten, but were proud of how well your child adjusted. You proudly hung papers and artwork on the fridge for all visitors to see. You listened to songs and stories made up on the fly and watched dance and theater performances in your living room.

Now, all of a sudden, you are living with an alien being. This new creature spends an inordinate amount of time shut up in a room alone. If you aren’t lucky enough to have multiple bathrooms, you consider adding another, just so you get time in there yourself. You don’t understand how someone can sleep that much. Questions are answered with a grunt, if at all and you are left on your own to figure out whether you are supposed to attend school events or not. (Hint, if you don’t, that is when your child will get an award.)

When you see this creature’s mouth open, you are not sure what is going to come out. It may be a sweet request for a favor, a growl or a bellow at some offense you have committed, or an “I love you, Mom” which is the most dangerous of all.

Though you question it, sometimes on a daily basis, that sweet, charming child is still inside this much taller, adult-like being. Glimpses appear when you least expect it. Your grown son comes in and sensing you had a bad day, envelops you in a big hug.  Your daughter snuggles on the couch with you watching TV. Those feelings rush back. You close your eyes and see that adorable small child again.

I have come to the conclusion that this is meant to be. When they are babies, we are able to stockpile our affectionate feelings to increase the probability of their survival as teens. Perhaps this is evolutionary. After all, some animals eat their young don’t they?