paradoxes of parenting pubescents

worn out shoe

worn out shoe

Today my 13-year-old son and I were at the grocery store, and he bumped into one of his friends whom he hadn’t seen for a while. His friend apparently said to him “Oh yeah, the last time I saw you was when your parents attacked me.” I remember it clearly. We were having dinner and his friend walked into the room and we attacked him. We said “Hello, haven’t seen YOU for a while, my you’re getting tall! How’s your school year going?” and so on. We attacked him with words. It was a terrible thing to do.

Note to self: Many young teens don’t like being noticed or talked to by adults. It’s horribly embarrassing. But, paradoxically, they also DO like being talked to and noticed by adults, and if you don’t talk to them and notice them, they’ll assume you don’t like them. This is a terrible dilemma and dicey business. If you veer a little too far into the realm of “attacking” them with pleasantries and polite conversation, you’ll find yourself in a gulag of awkwardness, followed by social repercussions for your own child. As in, I haven’t seen that kid my son ran into at the grocery store back at my house since that night we attacked him.

If you act like the robot-slave they pretend they want you to be, well then, you are reduced to nothing but serving them endless rounds of nachos and Ramen and chocolate milk, and driving them wordlessly around town while they crank awful pop music with horrifying lyrics. I’m not down with that.

On the other hand, I have older adolescent children too. Their friends actually seem to like me now. It was awkward back in the day when I talked to them and took notice of their lives, but now, at 18 and 21, their friends seem appreciative of this type of thing, and not only that, they actually talk back to me. And, the clincher, they even rely on me at times when the going gets rough or they need some advice or assistance.

I guess when you’re sprouting hair in weird places, your voice is cracking, your feet are bigger than your dad’s even though you’re 5 inches shorter, and you are both in love with, and living in terror of, your own crazy, unpredictable puberty-stricken self…the last thing you want is someone’s mom blurting out “WOW! YOUR VOICE HAS CHANGED SINCE THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU!” EMBARRASSING.

Being the parent of a pubescent child is akin to having a dysfunctional romantic relationship. The object of your affection, your pubescent child, so heartbreakingly dear to you for so many years, is now spurning you, at least in public. You have poured out mad love to this person for years, attended to every detail of his or her physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, and now, you are nothing but a worn out shoe. Though you may try to love your child openly and with abandon like you always have, he or she, like the bad lover, has become a self-centered, insecure, moody asshole. Therefore, you are forced to rein in your previously appreciated feelings, and you are only allowed to leak them out on the terms of the beloved lest he or she run away and leave you behind. “Running away and leaving you behind” in both cases includes but is not limited to: door slamming, yelling, dramatic emotional withdrawal, the silent treatment, secretive behavior with other people via text messaging and social media, spending the night with “friends”…

I suppose the purpose of all of this is to harden both of you for your child’s eventual heartbreaking but liberating flight from the nest. Limerence is not appropriate whether with your bad lover, or with your adolescent child. More important is for you to navigate right through the middle of it all, detaching lovingly to work on your own projects and hobbies, swooping in when needed to soothe and discipline.

Here is where the metaphor of the bad lover ends. You don’t get to leave the child. Your child is still going to live in your house and eat all of your food until he or she is old enough to go away to one of the many institutions that potentially awaits, hopefully college or the military and not prison or a psychiatric hospital. Until then, it’s your exhausting fate to be the mature one of the two of you. I can do this. (again.)

10 thoughts on “paradoxes of parenting pubescents

  1. Wow!
    You so perfectly nailed this subject that my stomach cramped a bit remembering both past bad lovers and long ago experiences with my adolescent children. This is front page work.

  2. Great article. My friends, who have seen sons through teenagerhood, have tried to prepare me for my own son’s journey. Along with the things you have mentioned in your article, they tell me this awful thing tends to happen when they turn 13 or so, when they figure out that mom is a girl and they think girls are dumb. So, mom is then in for some disrespectful treatment. At 12, Robby hasn’t yet hit this stage, I’m still his favorite and reveling in it just in case this happens and we end up more at odds with each other. However, the daughters were so different from one another that I just don’t think any of the stereotypes are a sure thing.

  3. I’ll start by saying, again, we seem to be sisters from another mother. No doubt, you got the better mother. 😉 We live in the same place (essentially) and seem to be raising very similar boy/men. Love, love, love this post. Beautifully written; wry; heart felt and nail on the head. I wrote a post a while back about having 3 separate get togethers with 3 friends of my older son; and noted all of the above. All of the awkwardness of way back when had morphed into a lovely, respectful connection that means a lot to me now. I have worked hard to be a good parent, but stay in tune with what is really going on in my kid’s lives… it really feels good when they grow up a little and things become all the sweeter. Good for you, for staying the course.

  4. Kids are soooooo dramatic. I just speak to them ask how they are doing and keep moving. I have found that the line between ‘attacking’ and ignoring is so thin you cannot see it so I have a canned few words I say to all of the 11-16 year olds. After that they seem to acquire some ability to converse beyond the standard one word answers with certain adults. It is always fun however, to verbally lock one down from time to time to watch the look of horror on my kids’ face. They will appreciate your engagement with them, their friends and their lives more and more as they get older!

  5. >worn out shoe
    – Oh, how I laughed at this picture, Chris! And how I love this shoe! Does it belong is any of your children?

    Here’s an explanation to my above reaction.

    I cling on to things until I can use them *almost* no more.

    In 2009, this conversation took place between my friends, Tricia, Liam and myself. Tricia went to college with me. Liam is Tricia’s family friend; now, mine.

    Liam: Kate, look at how disgusting your shoes are! Get a new pair.

    Me: No way. There’s still a year at least in these babies.

    Liam: What horrible brand are they? I can barely tell.

    Tricia: Hey, Liam, it’ll be Nike, Reebok, Adidas or New Balance. Kate uses only branded* stuff.

    Liam: So what brand is this?

    Me: Reebok.

    Liam: Are you sure? I’m willing to bet even Reebok wouldn’t recognise one of their own right now!

    My shoes at the time weren’t ripped at the seams or anywhere on the outside like the one in this picture, but they were just as scruffy. And therefore, much loved. Ha ha!

    *That’s only because I dislike shopping (I know.) and good stuff lasts longer.

    >It was awkward back in the day when I talked to them and took notice of their lives, but now, at 18 and 21, their friends seem appreciative of this type of thing, and not only that, they actually talk back to me.
    – Talk of reaping the fruits of your “labour”.

    >And, the clincher,
    – I’ll say!

    >they even rely on me at times when the going gets rough or they need some advice or assistance.
    – I’m glad for those young ‘uns because you are a sensitive and sensible sounding board, Chris.


  6. Such a great post – and SO true! My book on raising teenagers, titled THE AGONY & THE AGONY … has the same premise: and takes you thru the 5 stages of grieving the loss of your darling baby & the
    arrival of your new adult child …. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. We are SO on the same page!!!

  7. Pingback: Surviving the Awkward Teen Years – permission slips

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