Inside this post: It gets harder to spend time with your teen as they get closer to flying the nest. Sometimes you have to flip how you are looking at your relationship with your teen.
I’ve been walking my young teens to their high school bus stop.
Not all the way, because that would be mortifying for them. I walk them to the end of our block, and they turn right and I turn left.
Each morning I wake up, make the coffee, and putter around the kitchen. The dog wants to go out, but I make him wait a few extra minutes, slowly putting on his harness and leash until my kids are ready to go catch the bus.
And when they are ready to walk out my door into their world, I am ready, too. Because I want that 90 seconds with my kids before they head to school.
I need it.
I always feel like they are walking away from me lately, headed in a different direction. I always feel like I’m missing out on time with them.
They spend their days at school and sports practices and friends’ houses. And even when they are in my home, under my roof, they still aren’t always “here.” They are on their phones or studying in their rooms or getting ready to leave.
I used to think the pain I felt was natural. Their breaking away from me, the pain of letting go and of what’s to come. I know it is what’s supposed to happen, but the truth is, I just miss them.
So, I get to spend a few extra moments with them under the guise of walking my dog. They’ll be driving soon, so even this short amount of time is fleeting.
Sometimes our short walk is filled with silence, the crunch of feet on frozen grass the only conversation. Sometimes it’s filled with affirmations and wishing luck on a big test.
And sometimes, when I’m very lucky, it’s filled with insight into a life I’m desperate to remain connected to.
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I know my teens don’t tell me everything. I know I get carefully curated pieces of their day.
Sometimes they leave details out, or maybe even a little lie of omission.
Maybe they don’t tell me because of a judgmental comment I made in the past. Maybe they don’t tell me because they thought I would be disappointed. Maybe they didn’t want me to make a big deal about it.
Maybe it isn’t about me at all.
It’s okay that our teens keep some things to themselves, it’s okay that they have some things that are their own. This is what they are supposed to be doing. This is part of breaking away.
We have to recognize the difference between the contents of different secrets and the underlying motivation.
Sure, we want them to come to us at every juncture, tell us all the things. But it’s hard to figure out who you are as an individual if someone is always telling you their opinion.
Our teens are (gulp) coming of age, and I remember how that felt.
Keeping secrets, or looking at it differently, keeping some things private, is how teens learn how to make their own decisions and face their own mistakes.
Yes, we still have to set boundaries to keep them safe, but we can’t take it personally, or think that we failed when our kids keep portions of their lives from us. Sometimes we just have to hope that all that parenting we’ve done up to this point sticks to their developing brains, they’ll come to us when they are in trouble, and luck is on our side that day.
And most importantly, by doing the work now, we’ll have a better relationship one day in the future.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t miss them even when they’re standing right in front of us.
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You have to take those opportunities with your teens whenever you get them.
This morning, while one of my teen daughters stayed home sick, I started my morning walk with her twin sister. We were only a few steps out of our garage when she grabbed my arm. “Mom, look.”
She reached around into her back pocket to grab her phone. “Isn’t it beautiful? I hate getting up early, but some of the sunrises are awesome.”
She snapped some photos and excitedly talked about one day living near a beach and maybe taking a photography class this summer and perhaps she and I could take a trip somewhere so she could practice.
And in a flash, our short walk was done. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and ruffled our dog’s head and she was gone with a quick “I love you.”
As I watched her narrow frame weighted down with a backpack full of responsibilities walk away from me this morning, it was the first time I felt like she wasn’t leaving me, that she wasn’t desperate to unhinge herself from my grasp; instead, she was walking toward something beautiful, the sunrise illuminating the next wonderful phase of her life.
And I didn’t feel as sad letting her go.
I was excited for what is to come for her, eager to see how her life will unfold even though I know I won’t always be a part of it.
I watched her walk off into the morning light, full of brilliant shades of oranges and pinks breaking away from the darkness. I turned left, where the sun hadn’t yet touched the evening sky. The metaphor was not lost on me.
Life is born with a sunrise. I’m grateful I was able to share this one with her.
Originally published on Playdates on Fridays with Whitney Fleming