“It’s heartbreaking,” said my new friend, a writer from New York. We were on a course together and I confided that my son, age 17, was pulling away from us and as a result can be rude, dismissive, scathing and hurtful.
She understood completely and had been there herself and come out the other side.
These days, it’s often difficult to remember that my son is funny and smart and wants to go to medical school and train as a psychiatrist.
I lose sight of the fact that underneath the bolshie exterior he is the kind of boy who is sensitive, perceptive and kind to animals. He thinks about society and wants to make the world a better place.
He is academic and did exceptionally well in his GCSEs. I sometimes look at adorable photographs of him before he became so grownup and think of what was – clearly not the way forward!
I’d spent twenty minutes crying in the bathroom after my son had said something particularly hurtful to me
I had opened up to my new writer-friend because she has a 19-year-old son, and I desperately wanted her to relate to my situation.
The day before, I’d spent 20 minutes crying in the bathroom after my son had said something particularly hurtful to me. Hearing her describe the process as “heartbreaking” validated my feelings of desperation and sadness. It was a relief to know that other mothers (and presumably dads) are in the same place.
Of course they are. We’ve all seen the ‘Kevin’ sketch devised and played so perfectly by Harry Enfield. The monosyllabic, and thoughtless teenager is very funny, but you can’t quite believe it will ever happen to you.
Thankfully my son is not so moronic as ‘Kevin’, although he rolls his eyes and leaves a room in the same dismissive manner and at times I suspect finds us derisible.
In fact, part of the problem is that he can argue his way out of most situations leaving me feeling inadequate, petty and controlling and totally unprepared for teen parenting.
Teenagers have an uncanny knack of pinpointing your most undesirable characteristics
Having said that, I haven’t been really been ready for any of the stages. I remember feeling totally overwhelmed when my son was a newborn.
Teenagers have an uncanny knack of pinpointing your most undesirable characteristics and can shine the light on all your faults.
This is most unnerving, as is the knowledge that you no longer have control, and very little recourse to come back at them when they behave badly. They are keen to give the impression that they don’t need their parents for anything and they do it really well.
I remember the rawness of the teenage years, of thinking that adults were hypocritical – different people in front of their friends as opposed to the way there were with their children.
They seemed shallow and superficial and totally fake, but I seem to forget that’s where I was all those years ago.
Another friend told me that a child psychologist she knows recommends that if teens are being impossible, the first thing to do is to take away their mobile and money, but our son receives a nominal allowance and this summer is earning far more per week than we give him in a month.
We felt that cutting off his phone would make us even more isolated from him, and would give him an excuse to be less in touch than he already is.
He’s been like this for about two years, but there was a brief respite when he had a terrible accident at the end of last summer.
He was like the small boy he had been, very loving and friendly and vulnerable
He was in a wheelchair for six weeks but spent most of the time in his bed, which we’d had to move to the ground floor, followed by another six weeks hobbling around on crutches.
At first we had to cut up his food and wheel him around, just as we had when he was a toddler and it was strange how our relationship changed so dramatically and so quickly.
He was like the small boy he had been, very loving and friendly and vulnerable. He was fighting for survival of course, but it was strangely welcoming to be needed again, albeit that it goes without saying I would clearly have preferred him not to have the accident in the first place.
We got a dog long before I’d read this quote from the late Nora Ephron, a brilliant, insightful and funny American scriptwriter and essayist.
“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you”
Nearly two years ago, we got a rescue dog, Ava, and although she came at the exact time our then-15-year-old first started to push away, this was not a conscious decision; in fact, we got her because my daughter wanted a dog so badly.
Ava wants to be with me at all times, and this suits me very well. It’s softened the pain to be around a sweet dog who undeniably needs you for everything and who will always be pleased to see you and want to be with you, unlike our teenage children who increasingly prefer the company of their friends.
My 14-year-old daughter can be the classic teen with the untidy room, forgetting to put her endless cereal bowls in the dishwasher, eating too many snacks and not enough real food, losing things, walking around in a daze and being rude, but she is still fundamentally with us and confides in me.
I have learnt to be happy to chat or laugh or hang out with him on the rare occasions he is willing
I asked her what she found annoying about her parents and she replied that we are on the whole pretty ‘chill’, and that she wouldn’t like it if we allowed her to do exactly as she wanted, like a girl in her year at school.
This will no doubt change as she gets older and wants more freedom.
I miss my son though:
I miss holding his hand.
I miss hearing about his life.
I miss spending time with him.
Having said that there are rare glimpses of good times and I have learned to be happy to chat or laugh or hang out with him on the rare occasions he is willing.
I take pleasure in those moments and as the months go on, I am becoming more adept at grabbing them and going with the flow.
Finally, these are my top tips to get through these years:
- ‘This too shall pass.’ (They won’t be teenagers forever)
- Listen to what they want and if it doesn’t feel right, try to come to some compromise.
- Get a dog, or find a new hobby.
- Keep lines of communication open. Don’t show you are shocked by some of the things they say. Don’t let the relationship become intractably impossible.
- Keep loving them, however hurt or upset you are. Remember they have to separate.
- Remember how much you wanted to be with your peers and not your parents when you were their age.
- Don’t confront them every time they grace you with their presence.
- See the funny side. Their behaviour can be such a cliché.
- Knock before you enter their room.
- Don’t have expectations that they want to spend any time with you.
- Remember, you are not alone.