Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Love by a thousand cuts - parenting teens

I haven't written on this blog in many years. I don't know if anyone will see this but I felt the need to write it and needed an outlet for it. 

If you see it, thank you for taking the time to read it. xx

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‘Want to go out for lunch?’ I asked my thirteen year old son, who was once again glued to the xbox. I noticed that he still hadn’t showered or washed his hair, despite me asking him repeatedly to do so for days.

Absorbed by what was happening on the screen, it took him a while to realise that I had even spoken. ‘Wha?’ he grunted without looking at me, when he realised I was there and waiting for an answer.

‘I said, would you like to go out for lunch? Your brother is out. Dad’s away. It’s just us and I could do with a break.’

‘Well if it’s out, yeah,’ as he continued to kill aliens on a screen.

‘So….do you want to get out of your pyjamas and come then,’ I said trying to quell my impatience.

‘Yeah. In a bit.’

I turned and left, breathing deeply. It’s always the same. I approach my teenager with a friendly suggestion and am greeted with indifference and disdain. I know that that’s what teens do. But it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

Forty minutes later, after an argument about when exactly he was going to shower, we finally managed to leave the house. I suggested various lunch places. He wouldn’t entertain any of them. It was his choice otherwise he wasn’t interested. It was then that I should have turned around and suggested he have the 22p pot noodle that I’d bought from Aldi instead.

But I wanted to have this lunch with him. Despite being in the same house for most of the eight weeks of summer holidays, I had barely spent any time with him. Not for lack of trying on my part, but apparently hanging out with your mother is lame. And boring.

Over the course of the holidays I’d suggested going wild camping, indoor sky diving, doing an inflatable obstacle course on water, a soapbox rally, a trip to Portugal, the skate park, a puzzle room where you have to solve riddles to get out. They were all shot down in flames or done begrudgingly. Unless he had friends to do any of these things with, he wasn’t interested. And if I suggested we invite friends, he’d shrug or complain about which friends.

Even every day things - like having a family meal - is apparently the worst thing imaginable. He skulks over his food, his mouth millimetres from the plate, as though the effort of lifting a fork from plate to mouth is a taxing ordeal. If we attempt to engage in conversation, he scowls, grunts or snarls. It takes him about two minutes to hoover down a plate of food, at which point he will push the table away from him and he’ll slope off, back down to his lair. The years of instructing him to wait until everyone has finished eating, to ask permission to leave the table, to thank his mother for his meal seem to have vanished along with his ability to smile.

However, today I felt optimistic. We could have a meal out at the place he chose. Surely it would be good. Just the two of us. A chance to connect or catch up or simply have a laugh together.

Wrong.

I attempted to – you know – talk. About nothing really. Just a vain attempt to have a conversation.

‘Have your friends done anything interesting over the holidays?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Are you looking forward to catching up with all of them next week at school?’

Shrug.

‘Have you given any thought to what activities you might like to do this term?’

‘No.’

Silence. I gave him the opportunity to say something. Crickets.

I then attempted to inject some enthusiasm into the conversation by talking about some of the new sports activities that may be fun and asking him if any appeal.

‘I don’t know.’

I don’t know.  This is the answer I get to most things. On the strained conversation went. Followed by long silences during which I hoped he might spark up some chat. Nothing.

Trying a new tack, I decided to talk a bit about what I’d been up to.

Bored shrug.

Eventually, I couldn’t handle it anymore.

‘Could you just say something? I’m trying to make conversation but it takes two people to chat.’

‘Well what do you want me to say?’ he snarled.

‘Anything. Tell me about your day,’ I said.

‘I’ve not done anything so what am I meant to say.’

And that right there is the nub of it. He hasn’t done anything the entire holiday other than play on the xbox or been on the few sports camps I’ve arranged for him or hung out with friends at the shops.  He has nothing to say because he won’t try anything or do anything or engage with anyone.

‘Are you alright? Is anything the matter? Because I’m worried about you,’ I said gently. It has crossed my mind that his severe apathy may in fact be depression.

‘Argh. Why does something have to be wrong? Why can’t you just be normal like other parents? Why do you always have to get on my case?’

‘I’m simply trying to talk to you. You never seem to want to talk to anyone and I am worried that maybe something is bothering you. I just want you to know that I am here should you need to talk about anything,’ I said.

‘Nothing is bothering me except you. I have conversations with other people, just not you. INTERESTING people, people I want to talk to,’ he said with a withering glare.

And there it was. Just one of a million little cuts that sever the ties that bind child to mother. What no-one tells you is that each little cut makes your heart feel like it has been stabbed.

I know that this is what happens. It has to happen. Children need to place distance between themselves and their parents. I had expected it to hurt, I just hadn’t expected it to be so hurtful.

I wanted to cry. I looked down at the plate of food I didn’t really feel like eating but had agreed to because it was what he’d chosen, as that’s what parents do. They put their children first. They try to show them they love them in a million subtle ways, which children never notice, but parents keep doing because they can’t help themselves. They still love their children, even if their children give every signal that they in no way feel the same.

He continued his attack.

‘You don’t know anything about me or my life!’ he spat.

‘I know I don’t. That’s why I ask you about it. That’s why I try to have conversations with you. Every. Single. Day. But you never tell me anything.’

Deflecting that, he continued:
‘Other parents are normal. Why can’t you just be normal?’

I was just pleased that he was actually speaking, so asked him in what ways he wanted me to be ‘more normal’.

‘Well other parents let their kids have screens in their bedrooms. And other parents don’t ask whether there is swearing on a game. And other parents don’t check their children’s phones. And other parents don’t try to make their children do boring things like go for walks. And other parents do fun things.’

At this point I sighed.

‘And other parents don’t do that!’ he pointed at me.

I could have argued my case for each of these accusations. But there is little point. We’ve been over all of these about a million times before. I am a bad parent because I don’t give him complete freedom to do whatever he wants whenever he wants playing what he wants. I expect him to live by our pretty standard house rules and the deal for him having access to social media was that we could check up every now and then to ensure nothing untoward was going on.

It occurred to me that perhaps I should just give up. Let him do whatever he wants to do, watch what he likes including having screens in his room that he will watch until 3am and then not be able to function the next day. I should not raise the whole issue of personal hygiene or getting exercise or occasionally adding a piece of fruit or veg to his diet. I should let him have unfettered access to whatever social media he wants without any interference. I should stop trying to suggest he reads a book every now and then or remind him of his manners. I should give up asking him to do his few chores that he is required to do. I should absolutely just shut the door to his bedroom and let him live in filth. I should stop suggesting he gets involved in clubs or sports or activities or arrange to meet friends or take an interest in anything. I should let him put in zero effort in his school work. And in the name of all things holy, I should stop trying to engage in conversation.

After all, it’s his life. Me interfering is - I imagine - exceptionally boring and lame.

But that is the job of a parent. It’s a fine balancing act. Being the bad guy by forcing them to do things that are good for them. Or being the good guy and butting out. It’s about consistently giving out love even though your love is rejected multiple times a day.

We’re only at thirteen. The teens are stretching out ahead like a dark, gloomy tunnel. I fear my heart may break into a million pieces before they’re over.  But my job is to patch my heart and continue loving. And then do it all again and again, until one day he realises he loves me too.  

And even if he never does, I can know that I loved enough for both of us.


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2 comments:

Clare Taylor said...

Oh god. I so feel for you. In many ways I'm lucky; my oldest isn't challenging me quite as much but I recognise the signs and know that everything you mention in your post is headed towards me like an unstoppable train. Stick to your guns - I agree with every single one of the rules that you mention - but I agree, it takes time for our kids to fully appreciate the benefits of our parenting. If I'm honest, it wasn't until I had my own kids that I properly understood what my parents did for me!

nappy valley girl said...

Only just found this new post Melissa - like Clare said, I really feel for you. My 12yo is quite immature so hasn't really turned into a teenager yet, but he does say "I don't know" to most questions. I really think he will thank you later for not letting him do as he pleases - he'll be glad he didn't have those mythical other parents who say yes to everything and don't quietly encourage him to become a decent human being. If it's any consolation, I hear similar tales from plenty of other friends, so you're not alone.
Lots of love and hugs xxx