There is no shortage of literature or commentary elaborating the weight of teen angst and its impact on the teen, on her/his peers, on violence, on drug use, on family disharmony, on the struggle or heartbreak for parents and surely, for teens themselves. Even now, when my college-age daughter reflects back on the “drama drama drama,” as she put it, of high school, she joins this chorus of woe or critique or lament or sympathy. I remember thinking when she was younger that we were probably among the lucky few who would move through teen years relatively unscathed. And I guess, relatively speaking, we did. But we had a harder time of it I think than either of us had suspected we might. And I catch myself now, with my son at thirteen, thinking the same self-satisfied, naïve thoughts, and have to do a reality check, reminding myself that he and I are not immune from the real and important and even necessary struggle that accompanies the transition between young, and young adult, life. The move between dependence and independence.
My thoughts today are really not about the difficulty though. I’m thinking today about how engaging teen life can be for mothers of teens. About how it isn’t ALL difficult. About how, in many ways, the transition between total dependence and budding independence can be a lovely thing to watch, an inspiring thing to be part of. Maybe they turn to their homework now without you initiating. Maybe they get up and cook something when they’re hungry. Maybe they go for a run or take a nap or decide to eat healthy, for a day anyway. Maybe they see deeper level irony or heady sarcastic humor or social injustices in the shows you’re watching these days and now you’re not the only one in the room to appreciate it. Maybe they say “my team uniform needs to be washed for my game” and now you can say “Wow, you better take care of that because phew! You sure will hate having to wear that thing again!” Maybe they spend more time alone, sequestered in their bedrooms, seemingly shutting you out but also, happily, giving you a minute to think. Or sit. Or read. Or do something in the kitchen without them spilling their need all over you because, in many ways, they have less of it. Time when they are alone is also time when you’re managing one less person; maybe you’re even alone too. And how bad can that be? I mean right?
Teens are the people who can TRULY help with the dishes, or do their own laundry, or remember some of their own appointments. They’re the ones whose friends can bring large amounts of laughter into the home without needing you to orchestrate any of it. They’re the ones who can pack their own lunches or survive without lunch if that’s how they want to play it. They’re the ones who can wait for you when you’re late picking them up and do it without panicking about where WERE you? Teen life offers up a level of self-sufficiency that is, for many parents, a welcome relief and, for many teens, the same. And while they may not go about things the way we wish they would, they way we swear we taught them, they are going about all those things on their own and that’s the beginning of a beautiful, beautiful thing.