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Why Parenting Teenagers Is Exactly Like Having a Mammogram

Why Parenting Teenagers Is Exactly Like Having a Mammogram
Written by Karen Gauvreau

Young women who have not yet had a mammogram, or male readers, you may want to sit this one out. #fairwarning

Recently, my day began with a school meeting, a pelvic ultrasound and then a mammogram.

You know that moment when you have amazing experiences you would love to endlessly reenact? Your own personal Groundhog Day filled with cotton candy and rainbows?

This was like that but exactly the opposite. Since this particular mammogram went slightly off-script, I turned to writing therapy. And I discovered the parallel between parenting teenagers and having this procedure is simply uncanny.

Both require you bare yourself.
One moment you feel covered and dignified and next moment you are exposed and vulnerable. You may find yourself wearing a short crunchy paper vest that opens in the front, or worse yet, feeling out of touch and irrelevant. Vulnerability is hard.

You are so not in control.
My sweet technician said, “Don’t try to help me. The more you try to help, the worse it gets.” I tried to cooperate. Who wants to tick off someone armed with a growly boob flattener?

But the more instructions she gave me the worse it got. “Move forward. No! Not with your feet. Your feet are not supposed to move. Move forward. LEAN forward. Just relax. Make sure you relax!“ I was half expecting, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

And how do teens respond to parental help nine-point-nine times out of 10? EXACTLY the same! They protest indignantly, out loud, with glares. “Don’t try to help me. The more you try the worse it gets.” Although I didn’t see the technician roll her eyes, the message was the very same.

On the plus side, we can keep our shirts on when trying to help our teens.

First impressions can be wrong.
The first two mammogram images were relatively easy to position. I felt like a professional mammogram-ee. What were all those women complaining about? Maybe invincible breasts were my undiscovered superpower.

To bridge the awkwardness of nudity (me) and fully clothed (her) I confidently said, “My babies were all over 10 pounds so I can handle pain.” Like a fool. It’s my way to attempt to bring humour into the strangest of moments—it does not always go as planned. She shot me a look that I now understand meant, “Just wait for the next pose.”

As a parent? We have all met some who claim parenting is smooth in the early years. They make comments like, “My three-week-old sleeps through the night,” or “My toddler prefers veggies to treats.”

They should hold off on their starry-eyed conclusions until the offspring have been on this planet for 12-15 years.* Just wait, Pollyanna. Don’t start a victory dance quite yet.
*times are approximate and may vary depending on individuals

Pain can be unexpected.
On our second to last image with the torture device, I mumbled a quick apology to the left breast that was about to be plated and squished beyond recognition. And this deluxe package include a large scoop of armpit skin. As the scanning mechanism lowered, a shocking pain shot through my right breast. WHAT? HOW WAS THAT POSSIBLE? It wasn’t even on the Tray of Torture.

That sweet little innocent bystander got pinched through no fault of its own, other than being fairly, um, curvy. I carefully cradled my right boob and brought it to safety, shushing “ there, there.”

We restarted the entire process of scoop, press, plate, squish. While bracing for pain in my western hemisphere, I didn’t consider the upcoming searing eastern jab that took my breath away. I was caught completely off-guard.

True also with parenting teens. We might expect a little eye roll after a reminder to do chores, or pushback on curfew. When out of nowhere vengeful words might catch us off-guard. We may be pummeled with “you never” or icy silence we didn’t see coming.

Teenage words can swing from lifegiving to break-this-mama’s-heart and back again. All before breakfast. As our teens work out their big emotions, we can be innocent bystanders, often caught in the crossfire.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I am thankful for my lab-coated meanie. Yes, she made me tear up, but it was for a good cause. Her mission is clear and her mandate is simple. I will be a better person for having gone through this. I will receive reassuring results or I will be informed of concerns as early as possible. Either way, I did the responsible, life-honoring thing.

I am also richly thankful for my teenagers—the two I have and the two that will be at this stage in a heartbeat. They make me stronger. And brave and unrelenting.

And because parenting teenagers can be challenging, I am becoming a wisdom collector. My library card hasn’t had this much use since we discovered Elephant and Piggie years ago. I am rethinking strategies that once worked and learning to give space without being distant. I’m drawing from the wisdom of a few trusted friends who are one step ahead in the journey. And I’m fighting relentlessly to go next-level as mom and man cubs

Will there be tears? Definitely. But with teens, at least some will be happy ones.

About the author

Karen Gauvreau

Karen Gauvreau would squeeze her four-baby-body into a cheerleader’s uniform for you to know someone is rooting for you as a parent – cartwheeling for your victories and offering a pep talk when you feel pummelled. If she makes you laugh in the process, even better. She has written for Focus on the Family, Momsense and ForEveryMom and is thrilled to be here today. Karen shares the highs and lows of parenting four boys on her website,, offering hope and humour to parents in their journey. Find her on Facebook and Pinterest.