Connecting with My Teen
My name is Monica and I am a mother. Some days it seems as though I should be in a 12 step program. I have 4 children, all their activities, I work and go to school full-time...well you can imagine the chaos. Some days go smoothly and I am on cloud nine. The next day, melt down is an understatement. Being able to connect with my children keeps life running smoothly and we are able to overcome those rough spots. As they grow, it becomes more challenging. Connecting with my teen is literally priceless!
My teen is my first of four. When she was young, I read many books on parenting and took bits and pieces from them to create my own parenting style. From that we have created a solid foundation. Part of keeping that foundation solid is being able to connect with her. In theory that sounds easy, but it is not. What comes to mind is the book Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus by John Gray. I have not read the book, but I do understand that men and women think and communicate differently. So then, where do teens come from? What tends to happen is a road block in communication. I have been able to find passages through some of those road blocks, albeit too far in between. Each time I am able to maneuver around a road block I am deeply and graciously rewarded.
Growing up I would often hear the phrase: “just wait until you have children, you are going to have one just like you.” Sure enough, my teen daughter is strong-willed, determined, and stubborn. Yes indeed, just like me. For years I believed I was cursed. It was will against will. With many more years of experience of being strong-willed and determined, my will won, but often I wondered at what cost. Six or seven years ago I had an epiphany. I realized that I am “just like” my mom, she is all those mentioned above. Therefore, I did not start this. Wow, I was no longer cursed! My mom and I share many of those characteristics and we don’t see eye to eye on many things. We even go head to head on some issues. The most important thing about my mom is that she is my hero, the one I admire and look up to most in my life. Being able to see that even though my mom and I share some spirited characteristics, we are indeed different people gave me fresh eyes in raising my spirited child.
I started seeing all the ways that my daughter and I are different. I am an introvert, I enjoy my alone time and have since I was a young girl. My daughter is a social butterfly, always flitting from one social event to another. More importantly are the differences in how we communicate. I have no problem articulating my frustrations, concerns or problems. As I have aged, I have learned to temper my tongue with thought. My daughter, on the other hand, keeps things bottled inside. The more I pry the more she clams up. It is hard to sit by watching my daughter visibly upset and not knowing what it is. Through trial and error I have been able to enter her world.
Terrible Two’s and Teen Years
The terrible twos and the teens are probably the most dreaded of the children stages. I don’t think that has to necessarily be the case. For me it wasn’t just the two’s but the three’s, and I did not see them as terrible, just challenging. The teen years share a lot in common with the two’s and three’s stage. Two’s and three’s is when my children started asserting themselves and their need for making decisions. In this stage they knew that no matter what happened, I was their safe base. I loved that any and all hurts were healed by a kiss. I allowed them to explore the world while I acted as their anchor and buoy. Teens are exploring their world as well. Only now it is the BIG world. They get to see how they fit into the big picture. Teens also begin to be aware of true consequences. At times, instead of being seen as the anchor and buoy, I am seen as a hindrance. While at all ages there is a need for a tether, the teen years is when that tether is most needed. I see each time that I am able to connect with my daughter as strengthening that tether.
My daughter was homeschooled for 5 years and the last 4 ½ years in public school. She adjusted quite well. I remember at times, though, when she would come home visibly distraught. Mother’s instinct is to play out the worst case scenarios. She just would not talk to me when I asked what is wrong. Because of my frustration in not being able to communicate with her, I would create a wall between us. Out of sheer luck, and many times that is all it is, I found a way to create a connection. I lay down on her bed with her as she was pouting or stewing, I did not know which. I gave up on asking her what was wrong. I just started asking about the different teachers and their good and bad traits. Basically I was making small talk. Eventually, through this small talk, she opened up. I did not pry her open, I allowed her to reveal herself at her pace. It was nothing more serious than some hurt feelings. At the time, though, her world was crushed. I learned a valuable lesson, relax; she will open up in her own timeline, not mine.
On my daughter’s 12th birthday, her dad bought her a cell phone. I was upset, to say the least. I did not think she was old enough and I did not want her to have it. The cell phone has become one of our greatest tools for communicating and connecting, if you can believe it. I would not have believed it if you would have told me that in the beginning. She has a very busy social life and spends more time away from home than at home. One or two lines of text tell me where she is at, what her plans are or if she needs me. Many times throughout any given day, we both text “I love you” to each other. We are able to share excitement and disappointments while physically apart.
Facebook has been another way my daughter and I stay connected. Usually I just hang back and post very little. I am friends with many of her friends, both male and female, as well as their parents. It is a great tool to be able to see into the teens' world. When I was researching for a new cell phone plan, my daughter posted a comment on Facebook about what plan she prefers. I posted back regarding costs and coverage. What transpired is that many of her friends posted comments regarding their coverage or lack of. I was able to have a conversation with many of her friends, getting their input on an important issue while building connections into her world.
Through the month of November, I have been posting on Facebook things I am thankful for. Last week as I dropped my daughter off at school, we barely said anything to each other. While not necessarily a negative as she was on her trajectory, I on mine. Never the less, I was sad at the lack of communication. I decided to post something on her Facebook page saying something to the effect that I love her and I am proud of her. I sat down and wrote my first poem since grade school, My Star. http://hubpages.com/hub/My-Star Anyone with children will understand my trepidation when I posted it. Sometimes you never know what response you will get. When she read it, she came to me and gave me a big hug and cried. Yes, connection!
Words cannot express the bond that is created by going out of my way to honor my children even with all their flaws and imperfections. These connections, bonds are the glue that keeps us together when we start to fray. I don’t pretend to be an expert. I have a few more years left of the teen years for my first, and I have three more children to go. Each one of them is very different from the others. I have many more challenges. I know that as long as I go out of my way to connect with my children, I am doing everything in my power to keep the foundation sturdy while they venture out on their own. I hope by writing this, I will be able to encourage parents to build connections. It is not easy, and at times it may seem pointless. Keep on trying as the rewards are kept in your heart for those days when you just want to throw in the towel.