It was just a few weeks ago that a friend of mine called to chat and suggested that she run away from home with no forwarding address. Been there, thought that. Who hasn’t? We can all admit an urge to flee from our children occasionally, can’t we?
Before I could engage empathy, I engaged a blurt of, “Oh no, don’t do that! You’re just about to get to the good part!”
When she asked what I meant, I stuttered. Did I even know what her good part might be? This woman, who has been a single mom since her second day as a mother when her son’s father slinked out after realizing that parenting seemed difficult, … what would that moment feel like?
The one where, as a parent, you think, “Oh, okay, it is going to be okay.”
This woman has spent fourteen years handling all things child-related: Good cop, bad cop, confidant, nurse, punching bag, breadwinner, enforcer, chauffeur, cook … all juggled while working full-time to make sure that she and her son were taken care of.
I don’t know why my first reaction to her desire to flee was “But you’re just about to get to the good part!” Still, I do stand by it. I almost bet that her moment of awakening will mean even more to her because of the struggles that she has handled, no questions asked. When that parenting moment first comes - the one where she realizes, “yes! I have done it!” - she will have no partner standing by to exchange congratulatory high-fives.
Nor should she. All accolades belong to her.
So when she called with plans to head on a weekend away (her first ever) and (jokingly) mentioned never returning, I was quite quick to predict that the good part was just around the corner. Obviously, I first agreed to the girls' weekend because, you know, priorities.
Fourteen years old seems to be the standard age for boys to begin pulling away from their mothers, morphing from cuddly and sweet to sullen and smelly. In our home, the birth of that chasm was delayed as we zipped right past fourteen (and fifteen) while hunkered down in the world of social distancing. The chasm in our home first showed itself at sixteen years old and has continued forming well into this year, seventeen.
And while a teenage son pulling away from his mother is unicorns and rainbows compared to the emotional shenanigans of a teenage girl, my goodness it is still deflating.
For my friend, my words of encouragement centered around the huge difference that just a few years can make in the relationships with our children. No, my son has not yet reached the “loads of fun to engage with” utopia, but I know that he will before I can blink. I only have to look at his older sister to be confident in that.
Our once gray-hair-producing teenage daughter suddenly skyrocketed in maturity this year. She will be twenty-one in a few months and the abrupt change in her ability to adult has our heads spinning. And, because I can look back just a few years and remind myself that this child tested us, I know that I can also look forward just a few years with the assurance that her younger brother will also have become a completely new version of himself.
My friend’s fourteen-year-old took “challenging” to an epic level during the last few years. “Fourteen” probably sits at the top of many parents' list of Least Favorite Years. Heck, I’d even say that years twelve through nineteen as a whole are among the rockiest things parents can endure. Yes, children need those years to work through variations of growth, independence, and super-intelligence, and, by God, they do this all while having to deal with the dumbest parents on planet earth.
That is what I wanted to say.
Just wait. There is goodness right around the corner. The finish line is approaching. Practice the nod and smile combo. Learn to say “sounds good, buddy” and mean it. Don’t worry about attitudes or predictable failures. Don’t get wrapped up in the eye-rolls, closed doors, shrugs, or mumbles.
It is no secret that parents love to reference that elusive frontal lobe with passing statements of “when their brains come in,” “common sense has yet to arrive,” or “still not mature enough.” We joke, but it is true. There is endless documentation indicating that frontal lobes typically aren’t fully developed until the third decade of life. You know, the decade after those head-shaking teen years.
The frontal lobe is home to the department of planning, decision-making, memory, and impulse control. While we wait for it to fully develop … that struggle? It’s real.
Next week, my friend and I are embarking on a girls' weekend. It is the first time she will leave home without a child in tow in fourteen years. As we were discussing packing options, she slipped in that she was feeling a little guilty about leaving her son at home (though in the perfect care of his grandmother).
“Oh no,” I told her, “The real guilt will come when you realize you haven’t thought about him in a few days and are scurrying to grab the last snow globe at the airport.”
The seasons change so quickly with our teens. The hard ones seem to last forever but just wait, the good part is just around the corner.
As far as being the dumbest parent(s) on the planet? Stand down, my husband and I accepted that award years ago.