Parenting Teenagers, Titling a Book, and Saving the World

During the months of editing and revision before I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers hit the shelves, when friends, family, or even strangers asked my teens, “Is your mom writing a new book?” my kids responded—with long-suffering sighs and dramatic eye rolls, “Yeah. She’s writing a book about us. It’s a revenge book.”

It became such a well-established joke around my house that I almost called it Mom’s Revenge Book. In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to commit to that title, however. It seemed too harsh, even for a mean mama like me. Later on, I tried out Have You Lost Your Mind?  as a working title. I still like that one because I ask my children that at least once a week. It conveys the spirit of the book well. Unfortunately, that title brings up too many dementia hits in a Google search. Strike two.

I next became partial to Mind Your Mother as a title, but it didn’t wear well. It’s too sanctimonious and preachy, even though I do, indeed, believe that “mind your mother” may be the three words an angel whispers to a newborn on its way toward the delivery room. It’s good advice. Golden. Also, the Mind Your Mother title makes my children sound like they’re still in single digits. They’re not. Two of the three are a foot taller than I am. The height discrepancy isn’t a problem for me. I have no hesitation about reaching up, grabbing a handful of shirt, and dragging one of my boys back down to my eye level. I prefer eye contact when I’m yelling at someone.

A lot more thought goes in to titling a book than you might think if you’ve never tried to come up with a perfect one yourself. It’s tricky. I’d rather write a whole new chapter than think up a title that will satisfy all the different search engines, copyright laws, and a myriad of editorial and sales requirements. As a writer, I can tell you that by the time you sell your friends and your publishing house on a title, all the humor has usually been massaged right out of it.

Confession time: I’m going out on the proverbial limb with my latest book. It could get mighty shaky out there. In fact, someone might take a shot at me on that limb. I have to use my own life as writing fodder–I write humorous non-fiction: what else could I do? Those of you who’ve read my first three books know that my kids appear in earlier books, but usually only on the periphery. They make cameo appearances. This book is different. The teens in these pages aren’t the charming toddlers who appear in my earlier books. This time, I’m parading the little parasites and all their teenage angst right in front of God and everybody. Sometimes, nobody looks good—neither teens nor parents.

We’re not the perfect family—not by a long shot. We’re just regular folks doing the best we can with what we’ve got to work with. I make lots of mistakes. I’ll be the first to admit that, but I never stop trying to do a good job as a parent. Never. Some days go better than others, just like in any other job.

As you might expect, this book’s publication required some delicate negotiation on the home front. It would have been much simpler if my kids had just read the chapters as I wrote them and lobbied for cuts or changes as I went along. That’s what I asked them to do. It would have been a piece of cake to remove the bits that embarrassed them or write around the sticky wickets. I’ve been known to think up a whole different metaphor on the spot if I run up against a hard-to-spell word. It’s faster. Of course, my kids were too busy to read back then. Now it’s too late. Que sera sera and all that.

Raising teenagers is not for the meek, the tenderhearted, or the easily nauseated. It’s a bit like going on a religious Crusade, loaning money to a third-world country, or hiking your way out of the rainforest without a machete, a GPS, or an antivenin kit—only harder and riskier. The stakes couldn’t be any higher. We’re trying to grow people here. Not green beans. Not cotton. Not even the economy. PEOPLE. Think about that for a minute. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

If I do a good job raising my teenagers, and you do, too, we’ll have SAVED THE WORLD. Truly. The fate of the WORLD lies in our hands as parents. We’re raising the people who will have to save the environment, feed the ever-growing world population, and find a lasting peace for war-torn parts of the globe. Talk about pressure!

My theory is that we’re all in this together: teens, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, teachers, coaches, neighbors, and random strangers who cross our paths and influence my kids for good or ill. This is big, meaning-of-life stuff I’m writing about here. Nothing matters more. That doesn’t mean we can’t laugh about all our trials. Of course, we can; I think we should!

Teenagers are exhausting. Worrying about them is a full-time job before you factor in the laundry, college expenses, teeth straightening, and allowance. Take a few hours off this week and read about my experiences with teenagers. I want to hear your stories, too. Post them on my Facebook fan page; send me a sympathetic Tweet; post a comment on my blog, or send smoke signals down South where I live. I promise to read every single message. Get that foot off the ledge right now! I promise you: it’s not YOU. It’s THEM.  If you haven’t had any teenagers in your home, but you’re planning on that some day, all I can say is . . . buckle up.

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30 Comments

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30 responses to “Parenting Teenagers, Titling a Book, and Saving the World

  1. John Wettermark

    Because I was the youngest of 7 children and because my parents were relatively older I was neglected in the parenting department. Oh, the pangs of just being trusted to do the right thing! I teased them in later years, “Mamma, Daddy, I was 15 years old, weeks from turning 16, and you two went off to Europe for 3 months leaving me alone with nothing but two cars and a whole bunch of money. What the heck were you thinking?” “Did we do that?” they’d reply. “Sure did, and not only that, the next Summer you gave Mary Helen (my sister) and me a car and let us go off to Orlando to work for 3 months at Walt Disney World. What the heck were you thinking?” Again, “Did we do that? Oh yes, I remember going down to visit – that was fuuun.” But I was a good child and learned from the good examples of my parents and rarely misbehaved beyond the norm. Still it was fun faux-lamenting to my parents their lack of good parenting

    So that’s one of my experiences AS I teenager.

  2. I feel short of breath reading that. I really do. HOWEVER, if I had SEVEN children, I just might do something like that. Three is more than I can handle or afford. I am faking it with the baby, and I’m just lucky she is a totally self-motivated person. “I’ve got this!” is her favorite line. She does not want me to handle it! Ha! I had a lot more freedom, too. I don’t think as much was expected by schools, coaches, etc. back then. I am shocked sometimes. Hmm . . . Europe for three months . . . and to think I felt like I won the lottery over spring break when we went to New York and let the kids have their own room. Oh, the joys of not sharing a hotel bathroom with three children!!!

  3. Kathleen Fittro

    Okay, I am laughing so hard right now! As “I” am playing hookey away from my students today, I finally hax a little “me” time. I have admitted to you that I have yet to read your books; not because I’m uninterested..I just don’t have the time while school is in session. However, fear no more! After reading this quick snippet I am hooked! I love the tone in your writing and of course your sense of humor! We gals in the Deep South are a little twisted, aren’t we? I love to laugh out loud and hang with my gfs, so this summer while I am on Shoal Creek in northwest Alabama recovering from 9 1/2 months of teenage hormones from my high school students, I plan to bond with my newest gf, Melinda, as I relax, read and enjoy the entertainment :0). May the force be with all Moms of teenagers!

    Disclaimer: I am typing this on my iPhone while at Headstart waiting on my little Asian man to cut my hair…please excuse any
    misspelled words!

  4. Got an 8 and a 10 year old baking here. I keep getting warning about what is to come. Tell, in the book, are there moments where you fall on the floor laughing in addition to pulling out your hair?

    • Yes, indeed. That’s my job. If I walk by someone reading one of my books on the beach or in a lobby or airport, and they’re NOT laughing, then I feel like I haven’t done my job. I always pause for a second and wait to see. . . .

  5. Honey, I hear ya about the teenagers! Mine are constantly featured in my newspaper column – like you, I always offer them the opportunity to read it before it hits the press – whether they choose to or not, well, that’s a different story. Stopping by from SITS, I will be back – you are a hoot!!

  6. LOL! So true about the teenagers….plus there is car insurance, girlfriend/boyfriend drama, student loan applications, etc…Love your sense of humor! Stopping in from SITS.

  7. My daughter is 3.5 years old. And I’m not looking forward to, say, 10 years from now. I have six younger siblings, and except for the youngest who is only 12, I’ve watched them all navigate teenagerhood. It was not pretty.

  8. Love your blog. Came over from SITS. Enjoy your day. Love this post. My oldest is 12 and it has been a turbulent year. All my friends with younger kids look at me like I have 3 heads. They don’t get it..yet. So as you know I am dipping my feet into the teenage pool. I know I will be submerged soon enough. Yes, it’s crazy, it drains me, stresses me ..but I wouldn’t have it any other way. You have a fan in me!

  9. My five kids are now 13-21. I should be able to offer lots of well-understood sympathy, but I really love having teenagers. My kids rock. Sometimes I feel guilty at how little trouble they are. They roll their eyes, they snap at me, and there is usually at least one who hates me — but that’s it. And I can live with that. I have so many friends having true struggles (kids who won’t go to school, kids who are on drugs, kids who are pregnant). I will keep what I’ve got over what they’ve got any day.

    Good luck with the fallout from the book. I hope it’s minimal. Maybe you can convince them that this is kind of a personal history you’re writing for them that they will want to share with their own kids some day.

    And I think the title is wonderful. I truly wish you much success with it.

  10. Dropping by from SITS today! Loved reading your post. I’m only starting year two of marriage and children aren’t in the picture yet. However, I still have very vivid memories of those teenage years and wish you the best with yours! 🙂

  11. {Melinda} You are speaking my language! I also write humorous non-fiction in the realm of parenting. I’m pitching my first book proposal at a conference next week. I SO struggle with how much to share about my children (even on my blogs) so I totally get it. My rule is to always run it by them first and to focus mainly on MY inadequacies, not theirs.

    And, just last week, when I was struggling with parenting decisions with my 15-year-old and 12-year-old, a dear friend said those exact words to me, “It’s NOT YOU.” So beyond comforting I can’t even tell you. Now if I could just believe it!

    Happy SITS Day!

    • I think you have it figured out! I have found a good niche with self-deprecating humor. I am always the butt of the joke. Okay, in my new book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers, the humor is a little bit at their expense, too. Think about great lasting humor: Lucy was always the fool, not Ricky, right? It works. Good luck with your new book!

  12. My favorite teenager-ism is, “See, what had happened was …” I think it makes a snappy title.

  13. Pam

    Parenting teenagers is difficult, no matter how great the kids are. (And mine are VERY great! One is 21 now, one is 18.) Their problems are so much more complicated than when they were little. Stopped by from SITS. Happy SITS day!

    • Truer words were never said! I think the chapter I wrote on social media in my new book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers, has generated the most interest with interviewers, for just the reasons you just said. I always say: “Is this something you want floating around on your wedding day?” Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever. . . .

  14. I just now (somewhat) finished up raising a teenager. At 18, he climbed on a plane to go from Alabama to Washington to work for the DOD for the summer. I still keep thinking, “Wow! I actually did it…I survived the hell of raising a teenager.” Now, if I can just focus on that and not dwell too long on the fact that I have 3 more to go! Happy SITS day, Lady!

  15. This is Brilliant! I have been looking high and low to find a blog by a mom who’s not talking about diapers and preschool conversations. I’m so glad I found you!

    • I’m pretty new to blogging, so I’m glad you are interested. I’m not new to books, however. My 4th, the one I’m touring with now is I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers. That sounds like a good fit for you. Hope you laugh out loud!

  16. I can only imagine what my oldest is going to be like as a teenager. He already has an attitude problem.

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