My laptop runs perilously low on power before I can recharge it. My son and I share a computer charger, and I can never find it when I need it. Over the years the two of us have also shared a phone charger, and, fittingly for a mother and child, almost everything else that involves a cord. Now that he’s 16, I’m thinking it’s time we each get our own. But there’s something about sharing these things, with him, the connection it brings, the pretend anger as we huff and puff—‘“Do you have it? What’d you do with the charger?”— poking our heads into each other’s space. … I’m not sure I’m ready to lose that.
My son is my second; he’s my youngest. Yet this time feels different, as if it’s both my first and last time parenting a teenager. I thought I’d feel more empowered having experience in this arena, but the truth is, I don’t know what I’m doing. Because kids go through their teenage years so differently, each go-around seems to operate on its own terms.
This time, motherhood is really lonely. Despite having close family ties and friendships, parenting has become something of a solitary undertaking for me. I can’t write about it. I can’t talk about it. I’ve never felt more alone in my thoughts. So instead, I’m dealing with my stress by logging onto day 6 of my 10-day Headspace meditation journey, and biking among 55 other people in my spin class, where I’m cycling out my anxieties rather than airing them in person-to-person conversations.
If my kid were younger, I’d be with a group of moms on the playground, dissecting a sleep issue or a potty training dilemma, in real time. My issues with my toddler appeared universal and, because of that, fixable. But now that my son is older, as with so many teens, his experiences feel much more idiosyncratic and, as a result, much more difficult to talk about.
Certain people don’t have an issue with sharing, even the hard stuff. They find solace in it. But I am an introvert, and as such, turning inward comes naturally. Plus, as a writer, the written word has always flowed more easily than the spoken one. And so when presented with an opportunity to discuss the thing that’s cutting the deepest right now, the possibility that nobody will truly understand what I’m experiencing, or have the same intensity to process it, makes putting it out there far too unnerving. Of course, there is the fear of being judged.
It’s not that my friends aren’t good enough. On the contrary, I am fortunate to surround myself with people who are loyal, kind and authentic. But consciously or subconsciously, I realize I am always choosing to preserve and protect the most precious bond of all — that between me and my son. His actions, or inactions, don’t feel like topics I am willing to share anymore, his stories aren’t mine to tell. It doesn’t seem right, or fair, to do so. There are privacy issues to contend with now. Teenagers are real people and deserve to be treated as such.
And yet, there is an extra layer with my son. I can’t see where he ends and I begin. I can’t detach myself. And because of this the potential betrayal feels even more severe.
But maybe I don’t want to talk to anyone at this stage for a darker reason. Because I feel like I messed up somehow. And if I try to articulate how I really feel, I am acknowledging that I didn’t do it right. That kind of raw introspection feels too overwhelming to translate into words.
Connection with other parents was a constant during the early years, maybe that’s why I am finding its absence so hard now. There was always somebody around who could relate to whatever problem I was having, on some level. But I haven’t had this luxury during the teen years. And I miss it. At a time when, more than ever, I could use a voice, an outlet, a show of support from another sane human being, this is when I feel most shut out and alone.
The irony here is that I’m writing about what I am not writing or talking about. And while I recognize this serves as an airing in its own right, it falls desperately short of what I really need. Because without the opportunity for back and forth, for somebody to lay a hand on my shoulder and say “I get it, I really get it,” I’m not sure how much it counts. But for now, it’s a start.
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