The Proper Care and Feeding of Ogres
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a lovely young damsel. As all great stories go, this fair maiden met her prince charming, and they were soon wed. It wasn’t long before they were blessed with the most beautiful child in all the land.
As their angelic babe grew, the mother and father were alarmed when, now a toddler, he began to misbehave. Biting, demanding, and the occasional temper tantrum took the parents by surprise. Their blessed babe was fast becoming an adolescent. Replacing the smiles, giggles, and playful laughter was a disrespectful, self-centered creature who now stomped its way through their home—nipping at whoever dared come too close. Who was this frightening creature (and what had it done with their beautiful child?) There was only one terrifying answer to their question. An Ogre.
When we first brought our little ones home from the hospital, I could not imagine these beautiful children would one day grow up and have the ability to make me mad, frustrated, and red-hot angry. Think about it. Teenagers and toddlers have more in common than we’d care to admit. As the mother of four children—a few of them now teenagers—I understand this logic. Completely.
Toddlers want your full attention. Able to feel only their own discomfort, they become hostile and demanding when their needs aren’t immediately met. Teenagers are frighteningly similar. Though they no longer use their teeth to bite, they have learned to use words in the same way. The effect is the same. It hurts. They, too, want your full attention (though they pretend they don’t) and are known to have their own tantrums when they don’t get their way. What? You don’t believe me? Go ahead and ask any parents who have told their ogre—ahem, I mean “teenager”—that he or she can’t use the family car or go out with friends.
I consider myself an expert when it comes to the proper care and feeding of these ruffians. So, as a mother who has experienced her fair share, I’d like to give a bit of sage advice to those of you with one currently living in your home.
Don’t befriend your ogre.
Teenagers and parents cannot be best friends. This is the cardinal rule for parenting a young adult today. But unfortunately, a lot of mothers and fathers have muddied the waters here, and boundaries have become blurred. Parents, listen up. Friendship is the kryptonite for successful child rearing. Face it, Mom and Dad, you can’t be a colleague to your children until they pay their own taxes.
I’ll try and make this easy to understand. Don’t talk with your teenagers about your marriage; they should never be a sounding board for their parents’ fears, insecurities, and shortcomings. Do not include your teens in intimate adult conversations—ever. There is no reason that your daughter or son needs to know about your friend’s alcoholic mother. And no matter what anyone tells you, hanging out with your teenager and his or her friends is just plain creepy. Remember, your best friend should be your spouse, or, well, your best friend, but not your teenager.
Don’t tolerate biting.
Words hurt. Being bitten by a tiny crumb-cruncher can be a pretty painful experience, but the bite from a teen’s angry words can take much longer to heal. I want to listen to what my adolescents have to say, but I don’t tolerate biting language. I want them to speak to me the way they would speak to a favorite teacher or coach—with respect.
I don’t ascribe to the “do as I say, not as I do” theory of parenting, so I try very hard not to say things that I will regret later. It isn’t easy. Often, I will go to another part of the house to give myself a moment to cool down before I deal with a volatile situation.