Being a teenager is hard they say, but nothing is harder than being the parent of a teenager. The angelic kid of yesterday now has horns like prickly pears and skin that breaks out into a rash every time I enter her domain. I feel like I am constantly looping in the wheel of her rejection, neglect, or artful critique. Let me add, being pushed away is only the half of it. Raising teenagers becomes that much more stressful and confounding when teenagers interrupt weeks of frostiness with moments of intense warmth and intimacy.
It goes something like this. My daughter gets so busy with her friends, schoolwork and activities that I hardly see her for days. When I do connect, it’s only because I’ve cornered her to run an errand, which she does with an eye roll and a sigh or she has recruited my help with what might literally be a thankless task. Then something knocks her off balance – a run-in with a friend, an unexpected defeat – and she comes in close. Like a swimmer grasping for the edge of the pool after a rough lap, she clings to catch her breath. Bonding supplants eye-rolling, and she shares details about her trying day instead of the usual one-word report. She entertains my advice and may even throw in some gossip. I touch her hair tentatively to feel her horns; they surprise me with their purr. It feels like a dream, almost sinful. She is listening to my words of wisdom and drawing comfort from my physical presence, yes, totally sinful.
Then she pushes me away, hard. She has her breath back and wants to return to the water, her world away from me, and she gets there by pushing off the side of the pool. She might pick the dumbest-fight-ever or criticize me in her sarcastic best (almost gold medal worthy, if there was a competition), or abruptly walk away mid conversation. I might still be stretching in my glorious and sinful dream but she needs to push away as soon as she is restored. To linger feels babyish, which is just about the last thing any normally developing teenager wants to feel.
I sulk, throw a fit, behave like a teenager and slam a few doors. I ignore her and praise the son; over feed the dogs, have conversations with my husband, I do it all and then some more. I muse on becoming unavailable to her during her need. “Why am I doing this to myself,” I ask, “Let her notice my absence, let her want for my company. But being unavailable comes at a cost. Do I really want to miss out on some wonderful, if brief, moments with my daughter? Worse, should she be left without a wall to swim to and have to navigate choppy waters all on her own? I can obtain a measure of protection by readying myself for the kick that will certainly come. When it does, I can strive to be the adult and say, “Hey, that’s not nice”.
I’ve heard exasperated parents refer to their teenagers as “toddlers on hormones”. Nothing seems more difficult than coping with adolescents who are trying to liberate themselves. It tests the strongest of us, even on good days.
With my daughter’s horn changing shade and texture every month, I am set now to see my son grow his own pair of stubbly horns. Is the second time around easier? Will I be more prepared, more accepting perhaps?