Knowing That Teens Will One Day Grow Distant Doesn’t Prepare You For It
By Janice Quirt
Photo © red_red_wine/Twenty20
Jan 24, 2022
I am no longer an expert on my own children.
At one point, I knew everything. I had a boy and a girl, and I could decode their unintelligible speech, read their facial expressions and know their moods just from their body language.
My kids used to feel like an extension of myself.
But these days, raising my kids feels like an anxiety dream: I am sitting down to write a final exam, except it’s for a class I didn’t know I was taking. I hadn’t attended a single class, and when I look at the page, I have no idea what I’m looking at. I have no solutions to the questions, and there seems like no scenario in which I will succeed.
Anatomy, Me, Me
My adolescent son often claims that I just don’t know what it’s like being a teenage boy.
And that’s true — I don’t.
When he was younger, the different body parts weren’t such a big deal. Now, there’s a whole world that I can’t relate to.
But one thing I can appreciate is hormones. I remember what hormones felt like as a teenager, and I’m experiencing them again through perimenopause.
I always try to find our common ground, so I can empathize with his mood swings and any effects on the body. Because, hey, I still get pimples too.
"My adolescent son often claims that I just don’t know what it’s like being a teenage boy."
But it’s not always easy.
I’ve had to ask my partner for insight into what he remembers from when he was our son’s age.
Then I try to apply what I’ve learned while navigating the many situations that arise.
This at-arms-length divide happens with men too. Some of my male friends have commented on how hard it is to be there for their daughters through breast development and periods.
We’ve all arrived at similar conclusions: kindness, support, and asking for help when we need it, seem to go a long way in surviving this next stage of parenting.
I also understand that as my kids get older, it is their opportunity to form their own identities.
Because, well, this was bound to happen.
While they may have been chips off the old block in their youth, that has changed. And I think it needed to change.
When they were young, they seemed to feel safer copying my likes and dislikes. Like how some younger siblings will mimic the interests of an older kid.
And now, they are finding their own interests.
Once upon a time it was my favourite music, TV shows, movies and hobbies that were their favourites. Now I’m frantically trying to keep up with theirs.
"A handful of shared interests can be enough."
I love rock and alternative music, but now I’ve got a list of rap and hip-hop artists my son likes to get on top of, and it’s not always easy. But I try to listen to what I can, so we can have something to talk about.
I just keep asking questions. And I ask him for recommendations on what to watch too, except he likes horror and I do not, so our shared interests there are limited.
But we also don’t need to be the same people.
A handful of shared interests can be enough.
They will need independence, and a keen nose for discovery, especially when it comes time to leave the nest and chart their own paths.
But I’m sure many parents would agree that kids going from faithful loyalists to soloists can be a jarring transition.
One of the hardest parts of all this is witnessing my kids drifting away from the activities we once enjoyed as a family.
Like the cottage, which used to be a highlight of the summer. Now it’s no longer as appealing because their friends aren’t there and there’s no Wi-Fi.
Even hiking is out, replaced with an interest in boxing. And no, boxing isn’t a family event.
A friend recently described this shift well, noting how teenagers change in these big ways because they have a need for exciting, and potentially risky, adventures. In search of a dopamine hit, which can feel — inarguably — thrilling.
And in some ways, this has always been the case. Kids at all ages are endlessly exploring, testing and experimenting.
Even I long for the thrill of change, the excitement of travel.
But it just seems like there is always one more thing that is widening the gap between me and my children. And I ultimately just want to know them better.
Change, Three Ways
While my kids are developing and changing, so am I.
As I get older, I’m less interested in clothes, image or what society thinks.
I have become a woman who wears linen.
I don’t keep up with slang, memes and TikTok challenges.
I won’t sit through a scary movie.
And I can no longer translate my children’s speech, or keep up with their emotions. And I can admit that I’m not an expert on everything my kids are interested in, because it can be impossible to keep up. But I’m trying. And will keep trying.
Which is why I will keep asking questions, while creating safe boundaries. I vow to always maintain a curious mindset when it comes to my kids.
And at the end of the day, I try to remind myself that one day, we’ll be on the same page again.
Or at least a similar Spotify playlist.
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