This is a piece I’ve polished a little from a few years back when I was early in my parenting of teens.
I have been waiting for over a year now to see my wonderful son turn into the beast the world has told me he would be once he hit the awful teen years. I have scoured the faces of his friends looking for evidence of the horridness that can be found all over mainstream media. I have been waiting, truly waiting to see what all the fuss is about. And I have come to the conclusion that those folks are just wrong.
I don’t know if is a giant conspiracy to keep all of these amazing human beings hidden from the world for some magical recreation of all that is good about being alive. Or if folks are just listening to what someone else is telling them about the world and not paying attention to what is happening right before their very eyes. Either way, I am thrilled to be in the midst of teenagers.
Aside from the inevitable grief of “oh no where did my baby go, wasn’t it just yesterday I birthed him,” I love this phase of being a mom. I can only think that this less then pretty image of teens has been painted by parents who are having a hard time saddling up beside their young ones as they begin to launch out independently in to the world. Hanging on perhaps to some illusion that they have some control over how their children are going to step out into the wider world without them. Tightening the reins on this natural phase of growing up in hopes that they can some how slow it down. Cause I get that.
I get the part where it is hard to witness your child farther out in the big world making the sorts of decisions and choices that have the potential for consequences that may be bigger than choosing the wrong ice cream flavor. And I get the desire to bubble wrap that precious human being up so the world won’t hurt them. But the truth is, that all this tightening and control is exactly what sends the emerging adult farther away, as opposed to pulling them in closer.
It can be easy as a parent to have a knee jerk reaction to something our teenagers do that we wish they had not done. To make a big nasty fuss about what could have happened, even though it didn’t, and make that mean all sorts of things about the child. What’s a little bit more challenging but way more rewarding is stepping back to actually witness what our child has done. Because if the negative things we fear could have happened didn’t then there is concrete evidence that our teenager made a well thought out decision.
It can be easy as a parent to react from our own emotion and not take the time to unravel what we are feeling and to own what part of it belongs to us and what part of it is about our children. I know as my son tries new things without me around he is having firsts that I don’t get to witness, he is making choices without my influence and that can feel scary. But when I put my fear down I am truly knocked over by gratitude for the human being he is and his capacity to make well thought out decisions for himself.
I wonder as well if parents get all nasty about their teenagers because they are starting to have opinions of their own that may differ from those of the parents. I get that to. I mean we have put in all this time and effort shouldn’t we be the forever primary influence in what our children believe about the world? Again, when I step back a moment and take a long hard look at my own life I see, I don’t hold the same values as my own parents nor do I still hold the ideals I had during my teenage years.
A huge part of launching out into the world is the trying on of new ideas and identities to figure out just who you will be separate from the child you have been. So again, I can sit back and take offense to the different identities my teenagers is trying out and push them further away from me. Or I can saddle up next to them, honor all the ideas they spin out and remain a trusted ally in their world. Which I gotta say is way more appealing to the part of me that is already mourning the little boy he isn’t any longer. I want to be here in their life, for all the phases and the best way I know how to do that is by staying connected instead of creating even more distance between us.
I also think that perhaps part of this misconception of teenagers comes from adults who think they already know everything there is to know about the world so we kind of stop listening to the up and coming generation. We make all sorts of assumptions about them without taking the time to stop and listen.
I was recently lucky enough to make a ten hour drive with a 17 year old, 18 year old and my own 12 year old. I wish I had recorded every second of the conversations we had. The wisdom they have bubbling up in their not yet jaded sense of the world inspired me to look more closely at what is right in the world. Their enthusiasm for equality, like really true equal opportunities for all human beings, educated me about how I may have misdefined what equality for all actually means. And their willingness to ask me about things I knew about that they had yet to experience in the world was an honor I will never forget.
So I think overall, what I am coming to learn is that the world is one hundred percent wrong about teenagers. They are a golden crop of wisdom that we should all make a little more time for in our lives. If they are pushing us away a little bit, it’s so they have room to grown and it’s a brilliant opportunity to practice respecting boundaries. If they are talking it’s time we drop our agenda delve deep into our hearts and listen free of all judgment. If they make a decision we don’t agree with it’s time to see the wider picture, to see our child in the situation and not the behavior and to find our way back to the common ground that is the love and respect we share for one another. Finally, when they do come to us and ask for support or advice we should give it from the place of wanting to remain a trusted ally in their lifetime and not a place of I know everything. Because this folks, is the start of our transition from a relationship with a child to a relationship with an adult and since unconditional love has gotten us here I am going to keep leaning on it.