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On Growing Up & Moving On

I had a conversation with my teenage daughter today. She was in the kitchen doing dishes when she decided I needed to hear a song she'd recently discovered and fallen in love with. She wanted to share that with me.

Here's where I remind the internet that I am a) human b) very very human and c) trying. The song she wanted me to hear was a country song. A very country song with glass guitar slides and twangy accented lyrics. I confess that though I've tried, country is not my jam. I love for anyone else but it's not my flavor.

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However, I did not stop to think about my response before it fell out of me. I listened to maybe seven seconds of the song before going "Oh no. This is not for me. Nope. Pass." As the last word slipped through my lips I looked up to see my teenager absolutely deflate.

Well, fuck.

Mom of the Year over here.

Because to my teenager, a rejection of the things she likes feels like a rejection of her. I know this. It's something we are working on, as mother and daughter, to separate critique from criticism, to parse out the difference between refusal and rejection. It's a tough concept that many adults struggle with. I have no unrealistic expectations that a sixteen year old brain is going to be good at it.

"Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it's a bad song...I..." and then I stopped. Trying to smooth this over wasn't going to work. The cat was out of the bag. I didn't like the song. And the damage had been done, my rejection of the song hit like a rejection of her. I knew it shouldn't. She probably knew it shouldn't. But it happened anyway.

And then came the words I knew she'd find one day.

"You don't like anything I like."

Okay well, if it felt like she'd just stabbed me in the gut it's because I'd given her the knife, I suppose. But in that chat with my teenager and in the hours and hours I replayed that interaction and the conversation that followed over and over and over, I came to a few realizations.

  • It is absolutely normal and arguably age appropriate to not like what your parents like and for your parents not to like what you grow to adore. My mom loves Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow and The Carpenters. I cannot stand that music. I love Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco, and My Chemical Romance. My eldest tolerates those, at best, preferring the likes of Zach Bryant and Luke Combs.

Teenagerhood is all about exploring yourself outside the thoughts, ideas, and beliefs of your parents. Your teens have to reject some of the things you liked and find their own preferences to put in their place. They have to experiment with what it is to like things, to love things, to need things, and to prefer things. It is not a sign that you're parenting wrong or your connection with your teen is crumbling because they don't like what you like and you don't necessarily enjoy the things they found instead.

My teen also lamented the fact that we, as a family, are not an out and about type. Her complaint is that we never do things as a family. My husband and I are most certainly homebodies, perfectly content to putter around our house with hobbies and decorating and enjoying the safe space we built for ourselves. She's not wrong. My husband and I are very introverted and satisfied to be so. We are also in our forties. We already explored the big, wide world and find that we are happy here, in this tiny speck of it.

  • Kids will always have a drive to explore. Children grow up in an ever expanding bubble. As an infant, the entire world exists in what they can see. Once it's left their line of sight, it might as well not exist. Their bubble is only as big as their range of vision. As they get older the bubble expands to the house, the school, the neighborhood, the town, the state, the country. Once they realize that their "bubble" can expand almost infinitely, teens have a deep, innate need to see just how far that bubble can go before it tries to pop.

Now in full disclosure, I may have fucked up reacting to a song my daughter wanted to share with me, but I'm pretty proud of myself for this next move. I told my teen that she was right to call me on my shit here. My daughter, through methods that absolutely must violate the laws of genetics, is extremely extroverted. She is driven and fueled by interaction and engagement with others. My husband is not. I am not. I crave validation but from afar. Don't give me a compliment in person. Imma make it weird. For both of us.

But that doesn't mean as humans, we can exist in such a tiny bubble. It is important that we cultivate relationships outside our marriage, our home, and our family. My husband and I do have friends, but I'll admit I've let things like family, work, chores, and responsibilities deprioritize those friendships to concerning lows. (Sorry Miracle & Amanda. I'mma text you here in a second.)

Just because my teen is young, doesn't mean she isn't insightful.

Now, all that said, in all things there is a middle ground. My eldest is right. I need to get my ass out of this house every so often. But I had a little shit to call on her as well. She lamented the fact that we don't go out and do things with language that made it sound like we never go out as a family to share experiences. I had to point out that the truth is we RARELY go out and do things. Still a problem but not as dire as her memory would have her believe.

  • Human brains, thanks to evolution, tend to more easily catalogue the "Danger Will Robinson" memories. We remember the things that were hard, that didn't work, and that made us feel bad way more easily than we store the good memories. Yes, of course we store those core memories of our happiest, most joyous, most peaceful experiences. But on the whole, we remember the bad because it serves to protect us. We store the shit that went sideways and the missed opportunities so the next time we feel that way we have that moment of pause, that feeling of de ja vu that says "Wait. You've been here before. It didn't work. Disengage. Retreat. Keep yourself safe because this hurt last time."

We have gone out as a family. We went to several holiday events over the holiday season. We even took the whole family to a Paint-Your-Own-Pottery place. Abbi painted herself a lovely ramen bowl with a cute black puffball cat on it. We've gone on shopping excursions and coffee runs. We gone antiquing. But she didn't store all those. She stored the nights we stayed home, me buried in a book and her dad flying pretend airplanes on Microsoft Flight Simulator. She acknowledged that maybe she'd been overly general about that particular part of her complaint.

I also had to pull out a master mom move. We are a family of Formula 1 fans and while we'd have active, sometimes heated discussions of the races after the fact, my husband and I would sit and watch them every Sunday and she preferred to watch the highlights after the race was done. I pointed out that in her distaste for our habit of staying in and staycationing and having cozy nights at home, she wasn't middle grounding there. She preferred to stay in her room instead of breaking out the board games. If she was comfy with that, great. She has her own space and is welcome to spend as much or as little time in it as she wishes, especially at sixteen. But clearly, she was not enjoying her time. She was feeling isolated in there. That engagement, that quality family time was available inside our home just as much as it is outside the house.

I offered that while we will make a more concerted effort to take the family on outtings more regularly, she wouldn't be amiss to emerge from her teenage angst den a little more often.

She was amicable to this observations. The shit was mutually called, at least.

But that led me to my last observation about my teenage daughter. She's begun to hear the siren song of adulthood. My daughter is actively expanding her bubble. She has access to information and interpretation that I simply didn't at her age. Yes, the internet was around when I was sixteen but it looked liked this.

Not quite the information super highway interface she's grown up with. She has unprecedented access not just to information but interpretations of a globe's worth of history, experiences, destinations, and education. My oldest child is just discovering how big and varied and exciting the world outside our little town is. Her thoughts have turned to college and careers, romance and vast expanse of possibility that unfolds before her. As her childhood begins to wrap itself up and tie a bow on its head, the allure of the everything she could be, feel, see, hear, taste, smell, and experience is becoming a dull roar in her head, blotting out all else.

So when she looks at her forty-something parents who already did their exploration of Planet Earth (or as much as we could afford cuz self-discovery ain't cheap) and have settled themselves into a pleasant, comfortable middle age complacency, it's disheartening. No, we aren't very exciting people. Not when compared to the influencers half our age in a new locale every week. No, we aren't out there seeking our next adventure. We sought our adventures. We went on the epic quests. We know full well the loot drop at the end can sometimes be a bit of a let down.

We figured out what flavor of happiness suits us. It's her turn to see what's worth licking and she is itching for it. But she isn't there. Not just yet. Still a few more years until that freedom to roam is hers. A few more world lit classes, a few more years of petty high school drama, a few more months of preparing those maps so she can find her way home after her wandering is complete. And I remember how frustrating that is. To be so close and so far away from finding out who you are besides your mom's kid and your sibling's sister and your aunt's Pookie Bunny.

This whole weekend has found me pondering what the next phase of parenting is, a luxury rarely afforded to moms with kids younger than teens. All their energy is poured into making sure they don't off themselves in uniquely disturbing ways, what comes next will come with or without a period of introspection to prepare.

But my daughter needs me less as a protector now. She needs me as a guide. And we are tiptoeing into this new iteration of our relationship. My job as her mom was not to raise a good kid but to raise a healthy, stable, aware adult. And we both realized in the same moment, as a country guitar twanged, that we are closer now to the adult she's becoming than the kid she was.

I'm not done being her mom. I'll be done when I'm dead. And maybe not even then. I mean I wrote a shit ton of this stuff down. She might come back and read this very article when her own teen is perilously close to growing up and moving on.



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