Don't blame yourself if kids make you crazy

March 30, 1997|By Susan Reimer

A GREAT MANY adults go through their days agitated and irritable and depressed and resentful, and when they have the energy to wonder why they feel this way, they decide that it is because of their own failings.

Some women suspect it is their hormones and some men suspect it is their sea-level spot on the corporate mountain. Everybody thinks it is because he or she is getting older, and there is now more of life behind than in front.

I am here to suggest that it is none of those things.

Our middle-aged malaise is not our fault. It is not a chemical imbalance or an emotional arrhythmia or a function of our disenchantment with the world.

No, our bad mood is caused by the bad mood of the adolescent children with whom we live. It is caused by their chemical imbalance, their emotional arrhythmia and their disenchantment with the world.

It is a contagion for which there is no prevention and no cure. And it is no more our fault than the common cold is our fault.

This infectious bad mood is a mystery to us because it comes out of nowhere and it lasts so long, and nothing we do seems to lift it. We can only understand it by understanding what it is not, and it is not us. It is them.

Physicians call this the diagnosis of exclusion, and I am here to help you decipher the symptoms. Are you agitated and irritable and depressed and resentful? It may be because you are the parent of a teen-ager. This is how you can tell:

Your child dresses like a rag-picker, but is furious when you buy the wrong rags. These same clothes lie in piles around his room, but he is furious with you when the particular rags he wants to wear are not washed, folded and in his dresser.

Your child eats constantly, except when you have prepared a family meal, set the table and called him to dinner. And he has stopped eating whatever it was he could not get enough of last week, but he does not tell you until you offer it again. He then growls that there is never anything to eat in this house.

You ask your child to do anything at all, and she bursts into tears, shouts, "Fine!" sarcastically and slams a door.

Your child likes sports or dance or art class or whatever you have paid dearly for, but he doesn't want to be troubled by actually going. If you attempt to force the issue, you are told that this was another one of your dumb ideas.

Your child does not want you to volunteer in school, chaperon on field trips or establish a relationship with any of his teachers.

The phone is never for you.

Your water bill is so high you think there must be a water main break in front of your house, and there are wet towels all over the bathroom floor.

Someone keeps writing "Stri-Dex pads" on your grocery list.

Your daughter wants to wear your clothes, unless she thinks they are ugly and she wouldn't be caught dead in them.

Suddenly you are buying shoes in the men's department and they cost $80 a pair, and after you get them home he says they hurt and he hates them.

Suddenly, you are buying shoes in the ladies' department and they cost $60 a pair, and you have arguments in public about how she will break an ankle walking in heels that high.

You think you are deaf, because you can't understand anything that is said to you, unless it contains bad words or is about money or a ride somewhere.

You wish you were deaf, because all they do is fight with each other and try to provoke you by saying something like, "I despise everything you stand for."

You have a stupid job and they will never work at such a stupid job for so little money.

You have these arguments that always end with your child shouting, "I am 13 years old," and you shouting, "You are only 13 years old."

The only time they will let you see their schoolwork is when they want you to type it.

Your child must be constantly surrounded by noise, but none of it can be you talking. You are not permitted to express opinions or speak to their friends.

You are told that you don't know anything about sex, so why should anyone listen to you, and you realize they might be right because it has been so long you might have forgotten everything you knew.

You used to drink, but now you can't because it puts you to sleep or gives you a headache, and your teen-ager wants to know why he shouldn't drink.

You are a terrible driver, and you have an incredibly dorky car, and they will never have a car like yours, because they are going to drive a Jeep Wrangler.

And finally, when their teachers and the mothers of their friends tell you they are great kids and you think you must be a terrible parent, demanding and unappreciative, remember this: It isn't you.

It's them.

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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