Our children experience growing pains as their bodies undergo the incredible transformation from child to adult. As parents, we also experience growing pains, those aches and pains of the heart that we feel while watching our children grow from babies to fully formed adults. Just as our children must learn to deal with their sporadic aches and pains of growth, we must also learn to deal with the joys and the pains of our journey through parenthood.
With newborns, I was often sleep deprived and exhausted from the physical demands and the daunting responsibility of nurturing a tiny being that depended on me for its very survival. I don't miss my diaper bag or the large circles under my eyes, but I do miss listening to that unbridled laughter, and holding that tiny ball of warm flesh curled up, fast asleep in my arms. Next came toddlerhood and temper tantrums, the refusal to be buckled into a car seat until I practically had to sit on him, and the beginning signs of finicky eating. It also brought those precious first words and hilarious sentences as he attempted to express his thoughts and feelings, watching his pure joy in simple playtime, and soaking up the smell of his freshly bathed skin wrapped up in cute little pajamas sitting on my lap, captivated by a bedtime story.
How quickly they grow! Before you know it, that cute little toddler was off to school. As I reluctantly released his tiny little hand from mine, and watched him take his first steps toward independence, I felt a small pit in my stomach and an ache in my heart, fully aware that this was just first of many steps I would take in letting him go.
I have been told by many friends and family members whose children are grown about the great joy I will experience watching my children become fully independent adults. And, I have been warned of the tremendous hole their departure will leave in my heart. They look longingly at me (usually when I am complaining to them about the eighth carpool I have driven that day) and say, “Enjoy these days. The time goes so fast and before you know it, they will be gone.” So, I continue to do my best to be present and enjoy each phase of our lives together, and meet the demands of where I am now, which happens to be parenting teenagers.
Yes, I am on the rollercoaster of parenting teenagers, which certainly has some unique growing pains for everyone involved. As parents of teens know well, some days teenagers are the kind, sweet children who look at you and just need a hug, some advice and a warm meal. Other days it seems whatever we say is wrong and not worth their time. Or, a simple look or question like, “How was your day?” Brings an annoyed response like, “Why do you always ask me that? ” Leaving me dumbfounded as to how my attempt at simple conversation became an annoying intrusion into their lives, and wondering where that warm little mound of flesh that sat so sweetly on my lap has gone?
I have learned that being the parent of an adolescent requires a tremendous amount of patience and understanding, and lots of deep breathing. I have also learned that I am not alone, and there is great strength in sharing and connecting with other parents who are experiencing similar growing pains. It is also helpful to remember how I felt as a teenager when I too thought my parents were clueless and annoying (sorry mom and dad). It’s just hard to believe that I am now that “clueless” and “annoying” parent. I somehow thought that through proper parenting I could avoid such interactions. I now know, however, that this teenage behavior is an essential part of growing up. Not only a rite of passage, but also a necessary, developmentally appropriate step toward independence.
Gretchen Schmelzer's Letter Your Teenager Can’t Write You is a beautiful reminder to parents of what our teenagers are experiencing. It helps to hear their voice, even if they cannot or will not formulate these words themselves. It expresses what they need from us, and how we can be there for them through this difficult time in their lives.
This is the letter I wish I could write.
This fight we are in right now. I need it. I need this fight. I can’t tell you this because I don’t have the language for it and it wouldn’t make sense anyway. But I need this fight. Badly. I need to hate you right now and I need you to survive it. I need you to survive my hating you and you hating me. I need this fight even though I hate it too. It doesn’t matter what this fight is even about: curfew, homework, laundry, my messy room, going out, staying in, leaving, not leaving, boyfriend, girlfriend, no friends, bad friends. It doesn’t matter. I need to fight you on it and I need you to fight me back.
I desperately need you to hold the other end of the rope. To hang on tightly while I thrash on the other end—while I find the handholds and footholds in this new world I feel like I am in. I used to know who I was, who you were, who we were. But right now I don’t. Right now I am looking for my edges and I can sometimes only find them when I am pulling on you. When I push everything I used to know to its edge. Then I feel like I exist and for a minute I can breathe. I know you long for the sweeter kid that I was. I know this because I long for that kid too, and some of that longing is what is so painful for me right now.
I need this fight and I need to see that no matter how bad or big my feelings are—they won’t destroy you or me. I need you to love me even at my worst, even when it looks like I don’t love you. I need you to love yourself and me for the both of us right now. I know it sucks to be disliked and labeled the bad guy. I feel the same way on the inside, but I need you to tolerate it and get other grownups to help you. Because I can’t right now. If you want to get all of your grown up friends together and have a ‘surviving-your-teenager-support-group-rage-fest’ that’s fine with me. Or talk about me behind my back--I don’t care. Just don’t give up on me. Don’t give up on this fight. I need it.
This is the fight that will teach me that my shadow is not bigger than my light. This is the fight that will teach me that bad feelings don’t mean the end of a relationship. This is the fight that will teach me how to listen to myself, even when it might disappoint others.
And this particular fight will end. Like any storm, it will blow over. And I will forget and you will forget. And then it will come back. And I will need you to hang on to the rope again. I will need this over and over for years.
I know there is nothing inherently satisfying in this job for you. I know I will likely never thank you for it or even acknowledge your side of it. In fact I will probably criticize you for all this hard work. It will seem like nothing you do will be enough. And yet, I am relying entirely on your ability to stay in this fight. No matter how much I argue. No matter how much I sulk. No matter how silent I get.
Please hang on to the other end of the rope. And know that you are doing the most important job that anyone could possibly be doing for me right now.
© 2015 Gretchen L Schmelzer PhD- reprinted with permission
So, I continue to remind myself how difficult it is not only to be the parent of a teenager, but to be a teenager. I continue to take lots of deep breaths, send them my love, my understanding and my forgiveness, try not to react from a place of anger but with compassion, and offer them my presence for the joys and the growing pains of adolescence.