My son and I have always had a uniquely close relationship, and we spoke about anything and everything under the sun. Nothing was off-limits.
But when he reached 14, I noticed a drastic change in this closeness that we once shared. I wasn't clear about what was happening. He began to spend more and more time in his room, talking with his friends, being by himself, going out with his friends and so on. I had read enough to understand that boys that age needed their privacy and space, and that's exactly what I gave him.
Little did I know that this also meant him pulling away from me. I mean, I knew that there would be some distancing, but I also thought that the closeness and openness that we once had were enough of a foundation that it would even carry throughout his teenage years. Well, I was wrong, sort of.
I found myself longing for him just to spend a bit of time talking to me.
It's a weird feeling no longer being the centre of his life anymore. But it's something he needed to grow into, and I needed to get used to. It did hurt initially when I realised that he no longer wanted to share everything with me, but I guess that's also what needing privacy means—privacy from certain parts of his life.
I was once the centre of his life, and so was he mine, and he still is. I was desperate for him to open up, talk and spend time together, a deep need to connect, but at the same time, he was desperate to go the other way.
Even if he needed his space, privacy and had a life of his own where I was no longer a part of, I didn't lose faith.
He'll be 17 soon, and though I'm still trying to manage through this whole teenage thing, I think I've figured a few ways that have kept the communication going between my son and me.
1 - Listen More, Talk Less
Because conversations are few and far between, it was only natural that on those rare occasions that he'd join me, even for a brief moment whether in the kitchen, on the sofa or whilst I was working, I would drop everything and pay full attention to him.
I'm never quick to offer advice because I found out earlier on that it's not normally what he wants. Normally he just wants to share his opinion on something, and if he wants to know my opinion on the same, I will offer it.
Most times, though, he just wants to share stuff about his friends, what happened in school and his thoughts about all the things that are wrong in the world.
He just wants someone to listen.
What I have learned through just listening and not being in a constant need to give advice is that I've been able to know him better as a person and where his journey might be taking him.
It is truly remarkable how much you can learn from a person just by listening.
2 - Make The Most of Car Rides
I LIVE for car rides with my son.
For some reason, we always have interesting conversations, even if it's a 10-minute drive. Although, I must admit that sometimes, I think of all the questions to ask or topics to discuss for when we're in the car because I feel it's the best time where he actually opens up when asked.
Sometimes, he himself comes up with the most random and deepest questions about life that leaves me struggling for an answer! I don't pretend to know it all, and he knows that.
But it really gives me an insight into what goes on in that beautiful mind of his. It's weirdly comforting to some extent.
The best part of our car rides? On some occasions, when we reach home and the car's in park, he still wants to sit in the car and talk. I love that.
3 - Don't Criticize or Judge
I had made a terrible mistake once or twice for passing judgements and/or criticizing his opinions or choices that he would make. But, of course, that would just end up in disagreements or him clamming up and retreating to his room. So I vowed to never again.
I realised quickly that it's okay that his thoughts and opinions differ from mine. I would encourage it, and I would respect his opinions. After all, we're all entitled to our own opinions. That includes teenagers.
During this time, he's also started making his own decisions, and I've given him some freedom to do so fully believing that it'll promote the independence that he needs. Sometimes, he makes the wrong ones, but I'm always supportive, and I stay away from criticizing especially if it goes against what I would have decided in the first place.
As a parent, standing by and letting him find his own solutions to problems has given me more anxiety than needed. And as much as I've wanted to go in, help him solve all his troubles and give him a shortcut to everything, I had to learn to let go and let him do it on his own. I do attempt to guide him, without him realising I'm guiding him, and I definitely stay away from being controlling.
After all, making mistakes is an important part of the whole learning process, right?
He will have to learn to take criticism eventually, but maybe not right now when he's dealing with a whole host of things.
4 - Schedule in One On One Time
Making it a point to schedule one-on-one time works wonders. But I must say that ample warning needs to be given to him just in case he has something else to do or his schedule just doesn't allow for it.
I always make sure it involves something he likes. So I always schedule a lunch or dinner at his favourite places - maybe twice or three times a month. It might not seem much, but it works without him feeling too burdened by it.
Being in a different environment, outside of the home, and enjoying a good meal together always opens up communication channels between us.
5 - Have Patience
The loneliness can be unbearable, especially when your child drastically switches from this talkative, outgoing, noisy, you are their universe person to being a completely silent, secretive person, burying themselves in their rooms most of the time.
As much as we want to get them out of there and get them out of the funk that we think they're in, don't. You see, as much as we're struggling to find our way around these teen years, they are too, with much more intensity than what we are going through.
The only thing to do is to back off, stop hovering and give them some space. Space to navigate what they are going through, space for them to discover who they are and try different versions of themselves, space to let them feel the emotions they are feeling, space to figure things out on their own.
Be patient, and it will be rewarding.
I did my fair share of hovering when my son started hiding out in his room. I was met with annoyance in his face every time I asked him to come out to watch a movie or do something with me. It hurt. After a couple of those, I stopped. I needed to understand where he was coming from and what it meant to him to have some space and time to be on his own. It wasn't easy and still isn't.
I gave it some time, and by 'some', I mean a LOT.
Eventually, I came to terms with having to trust the process.
He sits with me every now and then, and we talk. One thing for sure, I savour every moment.
What I know for sure is that my son will never be the same 4-year old or 8-year old or 12-year old. He is him at 17 years old, and I am so very proud of him. He still has a long way to go in discovering himself (at 48, I'm still discovering myself!), and I'll be standing by him every step of the way.
Navigating teenagers requires a skill set of its own - intelligence-gathering through undercover ops in stealth mode.
And just like them, we will figure it out.