It took travelling to another country where English wasn’t the Mother tongue to open the doors of communication with my teenagers. These are teenagers who seem to physically shudder at the thought of spending time with me, who walk ten steps behind me through the shopping mall, groan every time I ask a simple question, such as ‘do you have homework?’ or ‘are you going to be home for dinner?. Travelling with my teenagers was an opportunity to get to know these growing young people more intimately and discover how much my ‘babies’ had grown before they take their own path into that grand experience called life.
The idea of travelling with teenagers was wrought with emotion, anxiety and excitement. Would I be the referee between arguments between my two children, or between the children’s father and the rugrats? Would I have sulking teenagers who would refuse to talk to strangers or engage with others, or constantly complain of being bored? Would my teenagers be on social media bemoaning how many days they had left to be tortured on a daily basis by their forever annoying parents. We had traveled to Phuket, Thailand, with our two teenagers, eighteen and fifteen years of age.
But these fears turned out to be unwarranted. Instead we watched our son and daughter barter for their wares without needing a parents help, had the experience of drinking with my son on a night out, and observed them them both forging a growing independence and an air of worldliness. The time away was a reminder that our children, our teens, were not our babies, but young adults, especially the eighteen year old. Of course I knew this before we left, as he’s hardly home. He’s either at work, with mates, or with his girlfriend. In fact apart from giving him a bed, the odd meal and a handout when he’s broke, we his parents are generally treated as being a nuisance, just there to ask annoying and awkward questions.
Being a young adult can be an awkward period. An eighteen year old in New Zealand can vote, get married, have sex, and buy a drink in a bar, but many eighteen year olds are still at high school in their final year, so although many work part time, most are still reliant on their parents income at an age where they are also experiencing large bouts of independence and expectations. And it’s not like its just us parents who are babying them and expecting them to stay home, so is the Government with its emphasis on young people staying in school longer and leaving with higher qualifications. This has meant there is more expectations and incentives for young people to stay on at school rather than leave and seek independence as many have done in the past. Plus the world has become an expensive environment since I was this age, housing is more expensive and employment harder to attain, despite the higher qualifications. On top of this, this generation has grown up with technology having a large role in their lives, technology that isn’t cheap, so a certain lifestyle is expected by many. This is all without realising the real cost of living and the price of placing food on the table. So for many of us our relationship with our eighteen year olds is still very much the parent and child relationship despite our child really being a young adult. These are our grown-up children.
But being away from our everyday comforts, routine and the experience of observing a different culture to our own gave us the freedom as a family unit that we don’t usually have in the everyday world of work, school, and the general day-to-day business of life. Unexpectedly it gave me a glimpse of what our future relationships, between our two different generations, may look like. Being away also gave us a refreshed appreciation of one another.
Since we’ve been back home, we, the parents, are still are an occasional nuisance, noted by the sigh when we’ve asked one too many a question or tried to give thoughtful and practical advice, but there is now a difference, our communication has opened. There is a lot less sighing, a bit more sharing and a bit less ‘I told you so’s’, from both sides.
This gives me hope that one day in the possible future I won’t always be seen as a nagging mother, but seen as someone who my children can have a conversation with. I’m not expecting to be best friends with my children or even converse on a daily basis, but it would be good to share our life journeys, as we move from a parenting relationship to an adult relationship where nurture is not an everyday necessity.
Watching your children grow from babies to young adults is an emotional roller coaster. You cry for them (normally without their knowing) when a friend rejects them, when they miss out in the sports team or drama group they trialed for. But you also feel their excitement when they score a goal, or when they have meet someone new and exciting in their lives.
But it’s not just your child growing and changing, so are you. As they reach an age where life is opening up possibilities and they are experimenting on who they want to be and do, this journey seems to be mirrored by the parents journey of change. Our lives become a strange mixed bag of feeling smaller, with ‘less to do’ and with the unsettled feeling that there is so much spare time. Some may feel a sense of lost and the wonder of how this new available time could possibly be filled. Some parents seem to suffer from an identity crisis, as they evolve from being a parent, who spent many of their daily hours or week tending to their children s needs, to an individual who can now meet their own needs first. While other parents feel for the first time in years a sense of freedom, which leads them on their own journey of self-discovery as an individual rather than a parent. For me, I am looking forward to the change in our relationships, watching them grow and develop into their beings, and having more time to experience the activities I enjoy without having the responsibility of being a parent of a young child. It seems that as your child makes their own way in the world, your life, now opens up to a freedom you haven’t experienced for a long time as a parent.
I want my babies, my children, my young adults to leave home, to have adventures, to make mistakes and to learn from them. They will have their heart breaks and their pain and often there will be little that I can do, except listen, be sympathetic, and love them no matter what. And this is what needs to happen. Life is for living, and to live you need to feel all emotions. Life has my doctor recently reminded me is full of ebbs and flows, and all you can do is to flow with it, knowing that no emotion stays static for ever. So although my children will have left home, I will still feel their pain and celebrate the good times, and we may live in different continents and time zones, but hopefully my children will know my door is always open and maybe every now and then they will return home to share their adventures, their pain, their laughter, and their discoveries with their old folks who are trying their best not to fall asleep in front of the TV or maybe riding elephants in some far flung country.
“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
― Anne Frank
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