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Posted: January 29, 2012 12:00 a.m.

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The not-so-awful teenage years

When I was pregnant with my first child, Zach, I made a statement that came back to haunt me. It was in response to the outpouring of unsolicited advice I received from experienced parents.

Parents who've been around the block a few times tend to offer a lot of advice to newbies: "Put a hat on that baby - it's cold outside! Don't let him suck his thumb - it'll make him buck-toothed. And make sure you enjoy every minute because time flies."

I'll admit I've been guilty of saying that last sentence to new moms myself.

One thing they told me was how much I'd need regular breaks away from my kids to keep my sanity. I honestly felt mortified when I heard that - and I openly disagreed with them. After struggling with infertility for seven years, I couldn't imagine I'd ever want to be apart from my delightful little blessings.

Granted, my kids are delightful. But now that I've been in the trenches a while, I get it. Nothing resets a mom's Happy Meter like a date night with the husband, a ladies' night out or a weekend trip away. So, needless to say, I have eaten the words I uttered in ignorance.

That experience makes me reluctant to share what's on my mind this week. Because here I go again, talking about uncharted parenting territory, acting like I know what I'm talking about. I'm afraid that I'll soon be asking someone to pass the honey mustard to help me choke this statement back down.

But I'm going to say it anyway: I really don't think the teenage years are going to be as awful as everyone has warned me.

It's hard to believe, but my oldest son turns 14 tomorrow. So we already have one year of adolescence under our belts. And parenting my way through it was not scary at all. Now, I think that's largely because Zach is a pretty awesome kid. I'm not going to say he's perfect, because he's not - no child, or parent for that matter, is perfect. He has his faults. We all do. But overall, I am just so proud of him, so thankful for the man I'm seeing emerge from the boy I've loved so dearly. I look at him sometimes and know that God must really love me, to have given me a kid like him.

Everyone said that teenagers are moody. Mine's a little moody - but I'm worse than that even without PMS. They said he'd be sarcastic, that he'd talk back. Yeah - I'm afraid that trait got passed down on my DNA and pretty much reared its ugly head in each of my kids as soon as they started speaking.

Which, if you're reading this, Zach Apted, is not an excuse for that behavior. We all need to work on controlling what comes out of our mouths.

I'm sure we'll be facing new challenges once he's able to drive and works away from home. Just the thought of those things makes my heart sink a little. I guess that extra freedom could bring with it the terrible battles everyone says I should brace myself for?

Maybe it's my naivety speaking, but I just don't think the teenage years have to be a nightmare for any of us. Zach even has great friends, people who are likable and kind. He does his chores and helps with his baby brother, and when I told him about a group of Ugandan orphans, the first thing he wanted to do was send all of his money to them. And then he brainstormed for days about other ways to help them out. That kid truly has a heart of gold.

So does it have to tarnish? Is it truly inevitable that the teenage years are turbulent and full of strife? I'm just not believing that it has to be that way.

No one ever told me that I'd enjoy my older kids as much as I do. So I plan to continue on, optimistically, hoping for the best. I might have to eat my words again someday, but don't pass the honey mustard just yet.


Kari may be reached at

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