Babies and teenagers have a few things in common. Neither one has any desire to get up and do anything remotely productive. Both are growing at a rapid pace that may cause them to sleep for what seems like excessive amounts of time, and both are learning new things that are beyond their grasps…for a while. For the baby, its the ability to sit, feed, and eventually communicate. For the teenager however, its the ability to juggle almost all the same things with directive from the world around them.
You forget the luxuries of time when you aren’t weighed down by the needs of another human being who is reliant on you. Being singular gives you the option to just do whatever you want, whenever you want. You don’t have to take considerations into account unless you want to. When you are paired off with a significant other who is hopefully self sufficient, you have to take their schedule into consideration, but you can still control your schedule and change things on a whim if you’d like. Your time is still your own, respectably. However, when you add the wrench of a child into that game, especially one who is not with you all the time, you learn very quickly the time constraints of being a full time on call parent to an active child.
I had the chance to play parent to a 15 years old for a week, and I don’t think I have had a harder week being as a functioning adult then during those 7 days. Babies you can train to be on your schedule, or you can pick them up and take them wherever you need to go. Toddlers, while they sometimes have opinions, are usually easily persuaded by anything that could potentially be a new adventure, and school aged children, their schedules are just a little more flexible. Teenagers however, have lives, and their lives become a main focus of your life, and your schedule, now revolves around them.
With the playoffs for lacrosse that weekend, a big project at the office, and one minimum schedule day thrown into the mix, the week with the teenager, proved to be anything but easy.
I have had my schedule revolve around the feeding and napping schedule of infants. I have done the daycare run with toddlers, running back twice because of a missed lunchbox, or a stuffed animal left in the car. I have done the sick kid pick up from school in the middle of the day, but nothing, and I mean nothing had me prepared for a week with a teenager who had a social life, budding athletic career and who had the ability to consistently move at snails pace.
You don’t appreciate the luxury of “me time” until you no longer have it.
My regularly scheduled massage in the middle of the week had to be changed because it conflicted with the practice schedule for lacrosse. My weekend waxing appointment, cancelled, my facial cancelled, any semblance of me time, cancelled. I realized just how much “me time” I had before the teenager took over my life. Now, I appreciate the “me time” way more, as it seems impossible that it will ever be the same if I have a kid take over my life indefinitely.
Never have I ever appreciated the consistency of a schedule more than when I played parent for a week.
The greatest gift a parent and child can share, is the gift of a schedule. While there is luxury in waking when you want, strolling into the office at any hour before 10am and leaving the office whenever you’d like, there is nothing to force you into productivity like the strict schedule of a teenager with after school activities, social life, and no transportation.
7:00am- Wake Up and Breakfast and Get Ready
8:30am- School Drop Off
9:00am- Stroll Into Office
12:30pm- Office Lunch
3:00pm- School Pick Up
3:30pm- Work from Home/Homework
5:30pm- Lacrosse Practice Drop Off
7:30pm- Lacrosse Practice Pick Up
For three days, I lived and died by that schedule, trying to figure out when to take calls, while trying to juggle being creative for dinner. Making sure that we left the house on time for anything was a feat in itself when the teenager constantly responded with, “I need a minute”! Feeling like I wasn’t putting in enough time at the office, and enough time at home, just made each day even more anxiety driven because the reality is, doing this alone is really hard! I understood more and more why the dynamic of a 2 parent household is so vital to reducing stress. I now can fully stand behind that study that individuals with life partners live 8 years longer than those who do not have life partners. The stress of doing this alone is killer.
I found myself exhausted by the second day, and really irritable by the 3rd day. The lack of flexibility in my schedule to do things I needed for my own sanity, and making sure that his needs were first were taxing when I am so used to the rigidity of having flexibility. I can also now understand why some parents just don’t allow their kids to do extracurricular activities, its because its exhausting running around.
When the weekend came, I found the schedule to be no more constricting as we were on even tighter timelines and commitments, driving 2 hours for lacrosse play-offs, and then biting our nails on the side line rooting for our players, but also secretly wanting them to lose a game so we can all go home. I wasn’t the only one after the 2nd playoff game who was secretly hoping that the other team would wipe them out. At that point we had been there for 5 hours, and if they won, we would be there another 3-4. (They did end up winning by the way.)
While my brain was mentally exhausted by the end of the day, my heart was full from being appreciated.
At the end of the week, I realized just how mentally taxing being a full time parent really is. Especially when your goal is supporting your child in the last years of their childhood as they make the necessary steps towards their adulthood futures. Reminding them to do their homework is still a necessity. Making sure they are consuming balanced meals is a necessity. Thinking about their needs before yours, is necessity. Being a full time parent means constantly making the sacrifices to support your child’s needs, and that can be mentally and physically taxing when you are also trying to work outside the home, and manage the home at the same time. However, the greatest thing about teenagers that are sometimes lost in the shuffle of nagging, arguing and balancing schedules, is that they are old enough to recognize and appreciate the efforts of your time and sacrifice.
It’s the gratitude when they get in the car after school and are famished and you offer a snack. It’s the excitement when you let them pick dinner after a grueling practice. It’s the ask, to go to the movies with you instead of hanging out with their friends. It’s the excited hug they give you when the play-offs have ended in their favor and you were there cheering them on all along. It’s the excitement in their voice as they talk about what just happened and you can nod along and talk with them about it because you were there.
It was the little moments among the exhausting ones that made me realize why parenting is worth it to all those who willingly participate. The big sacrifices are always overshadowed by the little moments filled with hugs, laughter, gratitude and accomplishment. Their accomplishment so easily become your biggest accomplishments because you supported them and invested in their journey. It became so easy to see why its all worth it.
While I am sure the adjustment is a lot easier with time progressed over many years, I appreciated the insight and trial period. Also, I appreciated the realization that I just need a few more years of quality “me time” and flexibility before I can dedicate myself to keeping another human alive.
*This was an unpublished post from May 2017.