Some days are better than others with a teen and a tween in my home. Last week I fought with Bailey about money, and with Sydney about her hair. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of a few contentious evenings regarding schoolwork, reading, and Facebook chatting. I don’t want to make it sound more difficult than it is, but it is definitely different. I keep wondering at this phenomenon. Different how? Different from when? It turns out that in my six months of absence due to successful cancer treatment, my kids changed as much as I did.
In the past two months since being reunited with them, I’ve had to get used to a high school freshman who is more likely to think about dates and ski trips than the video games over which he used to obsess. (It’s not that he never plays anymore; he just doesn’t obsess.) I now have a middle school daughter who gave up her colorful backpack in favor of a trendy Vera Bradley bag to be just like everyone else. I’ve had to get to know these kids all over again. It turns out that Sydney loves a TV show called “Dance Moms” and has switched from playing the violin to playing the guitar because it’s an instrument she can sing with. Bailey was on the freshman debate team this year and has discovered a passion for argument. He has buddies across ages and genders with whom he talks daily.
The boundaries are new; the thought processes are different. For the first few weeks, I was arguing with Bailey all the time until someone said to me, “Aimee, you have an entire lifetime to be on his case, but you only have three more years to build your relationship with him because once he’s out of the house, the building part is done.” The words resonated: I have to think about I want Bailey to interact with me not just now, but in the future. How on earth was I going to achieve that balance between strengthening our relationship and being an authoritative parent?
Being a reader, I sought out writing to and for parents – often mothers – with teenagers. A lot of it focuses on encouraging the mothers, validating their frustration and acknowledging what a tough time it is for the entire household. But in general, having read parenting books, articles and blogs for all of my child’s life, I note that so many of the articles I found on the topic minister to desperation. Sharing becomes more difficult because instead of cute little problems, our kids have bigger problems, ones that could potentially affect the rest of their lives. That little saying about little kids and little problems turns out to be true!
My favorite piece, posted by my friend Carrie, is “Dear Lonely Mom of Older Kids.” It’s a blog post that reminds parents that they’re not alone – and that parenting middle school and high school kids can be a lonely business. Fewer people are willing to talk about the trials and tribulations of having older kids and the bigger problems it can cause in the family. The piece is reassuring, comforting Moms and telling them that everything will turn out all right – eventually – and Moms will discover an inner strength they never knew they had in the process.
To that end, I also enjoyed the piece given to me by my friend Jacqueline from New York Magazine cleverly titled “The Collateral Damage of a Teenager.” People never talk about how tough it is on the entire family when the cuddly kid turns into a sullen teen. The piece is long but worth the read, covering topics such as parent conflict (with the teen and with each other) and resolution, sibling effect, and the most interesting part, about how and why the suffering ebbs but changes once a kid leaves for college.
These days my friends and I discuss our kids in light of behavior expectations, technology interruptions and distractions, and getting into college. But we’re still talking. One friend’s kid can’t pass math; one friend’s kid got on to the baseball team while another kid didn’t. There are ups and downs and the only way to survive them is to derive support from those who have gone through it before or are going through it with you. It doesn’t matter if your kid isn’t getting a 4.0, playing an instrument and five sports. Parents need other parents who won’t judge or compare. We need to do that for each other.
And then there’s the communication with the kids themselves. I have learned to listen more and talk less. I have learned to ask questions before making demands. I have learned to shoot off a quick text instead of calling if I want a response. I shouldn’t say “I have learned” but rather, “I AM learning.” It all happens in fits and starts and some days are more successful than others. My children and I had to spend some serious time apart from each other and so we’re all interested in spending time together now. That instinct might fade, but it might not. So far the kids are still communicating with me. What a gift.
Everyone grows and changes over time and it seems that the trick is to allow kids to do it safely and securely while hanging on to your own sanity – even if by a thread. I have no magic solutions or ideas, but simply gratitude for the kids I have raised so far and the loving friends who laugh with me as we go through it all together.