Here’s what I know about raising teenagers: Nothing.
I can’t give you any advice, and I don’t have any words of wisdom; maybe if you check back with me when they’re all grown I can look back and come up with an answer or two, but until then Joe and I (like most of you) are making this whole parenting thing up as we go along.
A few years ago I wrote a post about the caveman tendency indicative of teens, and in desperation I visited several Catholic parenting Web sites where I found this, the only thing that has helped me stumble my way through these teen years: the responsibility for developing a healthy parent-teen relationship rests primarily with the parent; that (like it or not) it is really up to us to keep the peace and maintain open lines of communication.
Fast forward a couple of years to this past weekend, and those words once again guided us.
On Friday Joe and I decided to take the family on a last minute trip to the beach. We planned to leave Sunday morning, spend the night in Hilton Head, and return home late Monday afternoon. On Saturday, as we were driving to the Kroc Center for a family workout, we announced the surprise to the boys. Everyone was excited except our oldest.
He didn’t want to go.
What?!? The beach, eating out, surf, sand … and he doesn’t want to go?
He also wasn’t giving us a good reason except to say that he didn’t see the point of driving all that way just for 24 hours.
Emotions were swirling: Nicholas was reticent, his brothers were in a state of disbelief, and Joe and I were more than a little angry. I mean, what was his problem? Well. If we decided we were going as a family then he was, too, and that was just that. He huffed, we puffed, and by the time we arrived to the Kroc Center no one was speaking.
It’s a good thing we were at a gym as it provided plenty of ways to work off frustrations.
As I was running on the treadmill, I thought about that parental advice from a couple of years ago: a healthy parent-teen relationship rests with the parents (okay, that means us) … it’s up to the parents to keep the peace (sigh, us again) … parents need to maintain open lines of communication (right. got it. us again).
After my workout I went to find Nicholas. He, too, was finished and was sitting by the pool watching his baby brother pretend to be Michael Phelps.
I sat down next to him.
“Nicholas,” I began. “I’m trying to understand.”
And just like that, he began to talk. He explained that he had planned to use this three day weekend to get some things done; that he wanted to finish his proposal for his senior project, study for a calculus test, work on an English essay, and completely finish one of his college applications. He was worried that he wouldn’t be able to get everything done before we left on Sunday, and he was worried that he had disappointed us by not wanting to go in the first place.
I listened to my son, and I understood. Totally. I patted him on the shoulder and went to find Joe.
In the end, this is what we decided: Nicholas could stay home by himself. This was a first for all of us, but it was time and he was more than ready to experience a little freedom.
So, while we were in Hilton Head Nicholas worked on his deadlines and his projects. While we were gone he had a friend over for two hours to study, he drove to Nonna and Nonno’s house for dinner, he played cards with them, and then he came back home and watched Ocean’s 11. While we were gone he enjoyed the freedom of eating in front of the television, of not making his bed, and of listening to the stereo while he worked. While we were gone he was responsible, mature, and finished everything on his to-do list.
And it was exactly what he needed.
And it was exactly what he needed.
Keeping peace.Maintaining an open line of communication.
Honest to God, parenting keeps us humble. While we may not know what we are doing most of the time … sometimes things manage to work out just right.
And as parents, those are the moments to hold on to.