By Chauna Sumpter – Single mom of a teen girl
One day you’re happily carpooling the littles to preschool, singing now Baby Shark, then Barney, Dora, and the Wiggles; you’ve professionally arranged for the face painter to come to their classroom after the freshly delivered pizza has been devoured, and you fly in without breaking a sweat on your lunch break with freshly-ordered, gourmet cupcakes — in warp speed, you dash through the door to sing with the class and the teacher Happy Birthday just before recess — no cape required. Mom and/or dad for the win yet again.
Next, you’re walking them inside of the classroom on their first day of kindergarten, complete with new books for the classroom community, a gift for the teacher —- you post the pics on all socials and everyone oohs and aaaaahhhhhs to your satisfaction. You can parent with your eyes closed in spite of their toddler tantrums, baby gassiness and sleepless patterns of time past.
You look up again and there’s boobs, bootie, muscle tone, height, bass-in-the-voice, in some cases body odor, renewed lessons on hygiene, major swag, major attitude and major resistance to you — their hero?!?
I’ve heard it said that toddlers are little teenagers and from where I stand today, therein is no lie. Your well-oiled arsenal of preschool and elementary grade solutions, quick fixes, styles of discipline, ways of communicating with teachers are holding up to this newly developed, formidable person like an overcooked, soggy noodle for the typically bomb pasta salad at the cookout. No pressure.
What we have here family is a teenager, but girl we got you. The hormonal changes that we see externally are just the tip of the iceberg of what’s manifesting internally. No matter how quiet and reserved your baby girl or boy are in demeanor and disposition they are very interested or at least very curious about sex. Hey, let’s jump into the deep end. Yes, sex.
First they ruin your floors, window sills and car with slime now they’re laying their baby hair to the gawds and this curiosity immediately elevates their just as clueless friends a minimum of 10 notches above your poor choices in college, that night in the dorm where you tried to save your toxic relationship, and that homecoming trip to GHOE you took that you’re still low-key mad about. Grown ups can approach them online, genders can bend online, obscene photos and or videos can be DM’d and shared with ease – all without you suspecting, or knowing. And without them realizing the long-term and potentially horrific impact on their professional futures. Few know that photos of your privates are deemed as child pornography by law enforcement and are punishable by the offender – sender or viewer having to forever register as a child sex offender once it’s reported and proven. Even as a minor. Girl, come a little closer and let’s hold court together.
All of the lessons you had on special reserve to curate Claire Huxtable-level teaching moments flee from you as quickly as The Red Tails on a WWII mission.
Once you get over being so enamored and amazed by their newfound height, physical development, how their svelte Coca-Cola dance body outshines your boobs, legs your whatever, please know that inside, these babies are trapped between childhood and adulthood. And in spite of how fluidly and quickly they can access information that is more than likely too complex for their bright yet immature minds to properly process and wisely apply (or not) — they need you, all of you to show up just like you did to every single Salsa Club performance, every Halloween parade, every strawberry and pumpkin picking they attended. No problem you say.
Once we factor in the high level of disrespect and here’s an oldie, disobedience that you’re about to embark upon it will jar you. It will seek to take all of your wisdom, mistakes and experiences, and spiral all of them into blinding distraction and fool you into fighting your children like you’re in the street, ready to handle them like a complete stranger, still ready to remove the earrings and to generously apply the Vaseline all over your face and well, you know the rest.
Although in many cases this reaction to dabbling into the forbidden without you, intense disrespect (after all of your love, sacrifices, hard work, money and time invested) may be warranted in theory, what the babies need (it took me a LOT of failure to get here) is your calm, your direction and arguably most importantly for you to stand by your own word.
No matter how hard they press you to change your mind, huff, puff, slam the door, trail off cursing you out under their breath, say out loud how much they hate you (that one stings) they need your calm, direction, and “sticktuitiveness” for the boundaries and consequences that you’ve put in place.
Social media friends won’t tell you they’re experiencing the exact same thing.
Do not be fooled by the hard-earned (no shade on accomplishments) 10.0 GPA, the magna cum laude, the dean’s lists, the honor rolls, and acceptance to every college and university in the Western Hemisphere, PERIODT. Hormonal changes are raging and manifesting themselves uniquely in all of ‘em, all of ‘em I say!
Our kids have access and are accessible to adults, adult content — Physical. Grown. Up. Content. Placing security measures on devices is key, physically checking devices at will and sifting through all five social media accounts. Yes, your angel face has probably created several accounts. One for you and the fam and others for the Too Live Crew and whoever else they meet physically and/or virtually. They need our calm, wisdom and willingness to at times be inflexible with standards, boundaries and discipline to feel safe. Just like when they were toddlers they’re testing the limits of your love because in this new chapter these humans need to feel safe. Only here it’s lost on them how much they need your guidance.
This new arena called middle school, teens, millennials — the Tik Tok gang still needs love, written in my best LL Cool J voice.
You’re going to be soooo tempted to be angry, upset and withholding of all of the rights, privileges, and benefits that come with being connected to you and you’re going to at breaking points give in to this temptation—you’re going to fail.
You’re going to leave the house at obscene hours to walk, jog, or speak privately all to blow off steam. You’re going to call your mom or your person to vent, cry, apologize for what you did 20+ years ago, all of it. You’re going to yell, get lured in to arguing back with your teen versus just saying what you said once and walking away. Just please know and believe me when I say that tweens and teens need your no, not in my house, I don’t care what his mother let him do, or that’s their business all to make them feel safe, secure and to clearly point out and to effectively name and identify social norms and acceptable behaviors under your roof.
They magically get some act right in front of respected adults, teachers, instructors and other parents — the initial shock you experience at witnessing the personality switch up will wear off. As soon as they get back in the car with you their head will spin a whole 360 degrees, again. The pain points with all of that swag you purchase for their ever-growing feet, you still have to feed, clothe and house these mini-adults, mostly non-cash producing people and you must stay open to to learning and properly using their language, listening and knowing the lyrics to their music to build a bridge, increase their perception of how cool you are (of course), and to open up conversations to dissect and deeply discuss bad messaging – I love you but sorry hip hop and rap. Additionally, you have to help them stop eating Taki’s, Hot Cheetos and drinking Boba long enough to drink water, eat plenty of fruits and veggies to help nourish and clean their skin.
My daughter went from having supple, juicy, smooth and flawlessly clear chocolate skin to having acneic skin for nearly three years now, complete with breakouts, hyperpigmentation, whiteheads, blackheads, you name it.
Hundreds of dollars later spent on facials, medicine, and products she’s, correction she and I are actively searching for solutions while trying not to inflict trauma by overly limiting her snack diet. This triple threat performing artist has had bouts with sadness and depression while trying to figure out why in her school circle and in her dance circle she’s the only one with acne?
Teens are authenticity detectors, so you must keep it 100 All. Of. The. Time. My transparency level has increased 100-fold. Tenderly, I shared with her that I thought the same thing but then I immediately knew that was an irresponsible and unbalanced place to leave the conversation. I decided to point out her privilege and the family sacrifice of being trained by Olympians as a competitive African-American figure skater for eight years, how she has danced and developed both crafts 5-6 days a week, one since she was two, the other since she was three with full use of her limbs and mind. Outside of asthma she’s had near-perfect health, she’s had the constant love and support of family and friends, she has an amazing sense of style (she got that honestly, clears throat, polishes pink nails with brown hand emoji). I pointed out how well-liked she is by friends with repeat invitations to their homes and activities to prove it. We as parents (single moms, more to come soon, salute in advance) have to illuminate a balanced perspective. We eventually tire out from the knee-jerking (because it drains all of your energy and adds unnecessary fine lines to your visage), we stop fussing back because we realize that we lovingly, firmly and responsibly carry the authority and we learn to be a partner of sorts (sorta) in being a teacher, a taxi, an organizer, an eavesdropper, accountability monitor and yes an authority. We learn to draw from the well of our experiences and to dole out the lesson gems on hearts and ears that are ready to hear them understanding that they will be thrown up in your face in angry moments as they learn how to handle power.
We learn how to be micro managers if or when grades slip and to reach out to Sorors, friends, spouses, family, church members, significant others, and co-workers for their super powers of listening and their special skills that staff our weaknesses. As much as we ourselves would like to believe that we provide everything our kids need our cherished village beautifully and therapeutically compensates for what we lack.
And that’s OK. Breathe supawoman.
You learn that it truly takes a physical and virtual village to invest their trusted wisdom, strengths, successes, losses and talents into your mini to propel them into young adulthood. Families with more resources may surprise them with gifts and positive experiences that you can’t right now. You learn to be quieter and more timely in your responses and more resolute to stand firm in your decisions — in spite of how it’s tearing your soul apart to not let them go to that party or sleepover. You want, need and crave the break from each other but you just know that you already said no because of their behavior and you cannot afford to send not one more mixed message, yet again.
And Sis, you just might have temporary, seemingly eternal feelings of hatred toward your own child — especially if you come home from the grocery store and the police are standing in your living room because they are required to answer a call from a teen who manipulated their services because said teen was mad that you didn’t pick up the phone after you used the time after an argument to cool off in the form of a needed grocery store run (when toilet paper was plentiful) in the days before Corona. But she claims she was concerned about you because you weren’t picking up.
Ride out the crazy episodes that no one will dare warn you about, except the brown mama gang here at Sugaberry. Remember your teen years – the bad boyfriend(s), the slip(s) in grades, the lack of focus, the constant talking back, the raggedy plans to run away from home. Talk it out with your loves, pray, pray, pray, pray, seek therapy which is part and parcel with prioritizing your self-care. This bears repeating, let me say it another way — SCREAMING: Put your self-care on 10. Am I clear?
After all, when you see your mini walking casually out of middle school with YOUR long-sleeved midriff on paired with her joggers, and YOUR now dirty and beloved very first pair of new Jordan 1’s (mint green and gold, painful smh), after you process the initial ______ ______ _______ fill in the blanks, you realize that not only are you a dope parent but your kids trust you, your style, your taste, your hygiene, your decisions and your heart no matter how they act out through the sometimes tumultuous early teen years. They tell me it gets better as they get into their older teens but they also told me the gestational sickness would end in the first trimester. 37 weeks and 90 pounds later I was still suffering with Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) just as nauseous and miserable as day one. So let’s just hold hands, breathe, pray, thrive in community and take it one day at a time.
My girl is 13 and counting and in the still deeply hurtful light of the gut-wrenchingly tragic loss of three teen girl athletes and some members of their beautiful families in Calabasas I’m simply grateful and honored that she is alive, well and here for us to journey on together.
Until we meet again Sugamamas it’s really gonna be OK.
@chaunasumpter on IG / firstname.lastname@example.org