A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon a quote about teenagers:
"Adolescence is perhaps nature's way of preparing parents to welcome the empty nest." ~Karen Savage and Patricia Adams
There has never been anything that I’ve read regarding parenting teens that is truer than that statement.
Several years ago when my eldest was 13 and in 8th grade, I sent him to public school after being homeschooled for five years. I wanted him to have a year to acclimate himself back into the school schedule before heading into high school the following year. About two weeks into the school year, he began coming home frustrated and short-tempered. He was irritated nearly every day when he arrived home.
I called my pediatrician and spoke at great length with her. She talked about all of the possibilities that could be contributing to the attitude. Her belief was that whatever was happening at school, his home was his “safe” place to let the steam off. Well, I bought into it for a while but I will tell you it gets old…fast. It was as if something was always simmering just below the surface and at any minute he was going to blow. That kind of emotion and behavior can take over the atmosphere of a home.
Over the course of that year we endured a range of teenage emotions but anger and rage seemed to be the greatest of those. My son’s grades were stupendous and he was an honor student. When I spoke with his teachers, none of them had any problems with him – they hadn’t noticed anything about him at all other than what a delightful young man he was. But the boy living at home with me couldn’t have been further from that student sitting in their classroom.
Without going into embarrassing details, I will tell you that my son had us questioning our sanity and our ability to parent such an emotional roller coaster. I had never expected to deal with a teenage son with emotions all over the map like that. Everyone talks about teenage girls and their temperaments but very rarely a teenage boy.
I felt alone. I felt embarrassed. I certainly didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about what he was putting us through. The screaming and yelling – slamming of doors – accusations, threats and constant altercations left our family in emotional disarray. And I felt as isolated as I had ever felt in my life. How could my child be this angry, disruptive time bomb?
The most upsetting thing about the entire year was the fact that he could control it. It didn’t happen at school or around anyone else – EVER. Very controlled and very directed and very specifically within the “safe” walls of his home.
Then as fast as it began, it ended. He turned 14 and a year after he had deemed us the enemy, it was over, he was entering high school and it was as if nothing had happened. The rage was calmed.
Not too long after that, that January Son #2 turned 13. I saw the signs. While it wasn’t identical to the behaviors of the eldest – there were definitely red flags going up – notifying me that it was time to buckle my seatbelt that the ride was about to become very bumpy. And not surprisingly – it did. Another eighth grade year again took its toll on our family with the turbulent teenager and his raw emotions.
While I didn’t feel as scared as I had the first time. I certainly felt alone. Embarrassed. Again…
Can you think of anyone in your life that you want to call and say, “Hey, I was just wondering, have you experienced your child flipping out since they started into adolescence?” After all, the only thing I heard was their kids had straight A’s, making the honor roll, volunteering in soup kitchens, and were still the model children. But on any given day in my home – someone was screaming how much they hated me, how I didn’t understand, how they were running away and how sorry I would be when they were gone. Doors were slammed, holes were punched, emotions were volatile and physical challenges occurred.
I remember one day I was reprimanding my son and I took a step toward him, lowered my voice and pointed a finger at him. I warned him that he better change his tone and that I wouldn’t stand for it a moment longer. I’ll never forget what happened next. Rather than backing down and apologizing, he puffed up his chest, took a step into me and said, “Or else, what? What are you going to do about it?”
I will never forget that day or that moment as long as I live. That was the moment I knew I had lost the war. Not even the battle – the whole stinking war. From that moment on I knew I was just treading water until it was time for him to move out. There was no sign of remorse from him. Not a single drop. He asserted complete dominance over me – he knew he was physically stronger and the thought of respect for me was completely absent from his mind.
I thought perhaps that somewhere I had gone terribly wrong with that child. I thought of all of the things that perhaps I could have done differently. I worried that somehow I had been the catalyst for that reaction.
It wouldn’t be until a year later when his younger brother by 18 months, repeated the same behaviors. I recognized it quickly. The challenge of my authority. The threat of their physical dominance. The laughter in the voice that signified how little my reactions meant. Life as I knew it had forever changed in my home.
My two teenage boys found camaraderie between the two of them with the common denominator being a dislike for me. I was apparently what stood between them and whatever they wanted.
I have spent the past 3 years living with completely different human beings than they were prior to the invasion of the hormones. Every now and again I catch a glimpse of who those guys were when they were my little chubby cheeked boys – but for the most part – they know everything and I know nothing. The talk over me. They shout at me. They argue with me. Roll their eyes and laugh at my obvious ignorance. Apparently on their deranged teenage planet, everything and anything is up for debate. All on a daily basis. It is now the essence of our relationship. I try to make a point and they make a point of arguing me into silence. It feels deeply demeaning.
It was hard to imagine that I would ever be ready for them to go when they were so young and demonstrative of their love for me. But things change and the good ole’ days become days when it is difficult to muster up the emotional stamina to withstand the ridicule. I can see the design unfold. I can see the necessity of them needing to go to be out on their own blossoming and I can feel the need for them to go beginning to take flight within me. It’s a very intricate dance that takes place. Everyone walking on eggshells all of the time waiting for the other shoe to drop and the next round of battle to begin. It doesn’t take much really. Anything that I think is ridiculous and anything that I recommend is utterly crazy. They know much better than me. After all, they tell me nearly every day, “Mom, you don’t know what you are talking about.”
I write this as I find my third son on the cusp of his 13th birthday coming this summer. He has spent the past 3 years watching and hearing all of the pandemonium echoing in our home with his older brothers. Just a few short weeks ago I looked at him and thought, “I won’t give up yet. I may still have hope with this one.” I don’t want to automatically lump him with the other two. But I remember when the oldest was going through his testosterone poisoning, I said to Son #2, “You’re not ever going to talk to me like that, are you?” and with his angelic widened blue eyes, he shook his head ferociously and promised that he never would. But we know how that story ended.
I feel sad to think that Son #3 will join the ranks of the older two. After all that I have seen, I know that it is inevitable. People tell me that they come back around again after a few years. I hope that it is true and I look forward to those days, but until then it really changes your focus.
With the birth of a baby, a mother puts the majority of her focus into her children and the spouse suddenly takes a backseat. Those kids become the center of your world; you will place their importance above and beyond all that you do. Until…adolescence.
I am tired of being complained about. I thought it was time for the shoe to be on the other foot. Adolescence is a metamorphosis not just for the evolving teen, but for the parents too. Each time that someone rolls their eyes at me, or picks an argument, or dismisses me and walks away or decides to stand toe to toe against me – a little bit of me detaches from the situation. It is a form of protection, if you will. My mother said something that I cling to – “You will always love them because they are your children but there are times and stages that you just don’t like them very much.”
I will tell you that since teenagers have entered this house, this mother is ready to put some major focus back into her marriage because I realize that one by one those know-it-all teenagers are on their way out the door. After all – when they are all gone, there is only one guy here who will be left…the one with whom it all began.
Teenagers are beginning their journey to leave the nest and perhaps that is why a mother bird pushes her young out of that nest. Maybe she has just finally had enough and is ready to cozy up to her mate without all those flapping wings, constant squawking and open begging mouths...