As a parent, I thought raising a toddler was difficult, then I thought raising a pre-schooler was even more difficult, and it went on and on. Every phase had its own challenges.
Fast forward 16 years, I can definitively say that raising a teenager has its own challenges and is by far the most difficult because it might just be the loneliest part of parenting. Loneliest because that child (especially if you only have one!) that used to be an appendage no longer wants to have anything to do with you.
I was very well aware that as children grow, they become progressively distant from their parents as they discover their own independence, which is just how they discover their own individual selves. What I didn't know was how hard it would be to sit back and watch it happen.
Teenagers can be extra sensitive and easily triggered as much as parents during these years, so being understanding and patient is key. These are the years when I find that I have to be extra delicate in my parenting. Weighing situations and structuring what to say in my mind before I open my mouth has been quite normal. Delicate - tiring but necessary. I want my son to know that whatever he needs to go through this phase in his life I am here to help. Not judging but accepting, within the acceptable boundaries.
I've accepted the fact that as I watch my son draw away from me, which can be hurtful and alien, it's nothing personal towards me. This is the time when he needs his space and he needs me to give that to him.
I first realised that my teenage son needed his space and privacy when he started closing his room door, not locking but just a shut door. This was new to me.
Before then we did everything together, he'd want to follow me everywhere and do everything with me. I mean, he held my hand until he was 14!!! Now he shoves his big curly head in my face whenever I want to kiss him goodnight! Lip to cheek actions is like gold. I kiss the top of his hair mostly nowadays! But you can't have it all I guess...
Being in a two-person family unit, when one shuts his door like that, it was difficult to take, only for selfish reasons. I was missing the little boy whose company I was so used to having around to suddenly finding myself alone for hours on end trying to keep myself occupied and trying to restraint myself from dragging him out of the room by his hair and telling him not to be so anti-social, not with me at least. But then I realised that this his time to retreat and whether I like it or not, I had to give him the space his teenage years needed.
Initially, I always asked him to come out from his room, join me for a movie, or accompany me to get groceries or join me for a walk - anything for me to stay connected with, but he wasn't having it. He chose his room. I thought I could somehow magically turn him around to become that boy he once was. I was wrong.
You see, after a year and a half of constantly trying, which was making me frustrated, I stopped trying. I chose to allow him to be and I stopped hovering, worrying and trying to fight a losing battle.
I am still alone, for hours on end, but he does come out every now and then to check on me, to grab a drink or a snack. More for the snack and drink. But what I do realise is that he's not pushing me away, nor doesn't he need me, he still does. Those few minutes every now and then when he does come out of his little boy-cave, is always filled with laughter and good conversations - about school, about life, about how tall he's getting, all sorts of things. Sometimes, we even challenge each other to see who can plank the longest, do the most push-ups or jump the highest - the smallest of things but means a lot to me.
One thing I've learned is to not take these moments for granted. I remind myself every time to make an effort to be fully present when he's talking to me, and so far, I'm enjoying every second of those few minutes.
There are times; when I'm working in my room, he'll come out of his and lie on my bed for a few minutes. I'll join him for those few minutes, sometimes we just lie in silence, or if he's in a mood to talk, we'll talk. I must say it gets easier and easier once you let them make the first move. Allow them that much.
I do gate-crash his room sometimes, though often met with raised eyebrows with an expression that says - and WHY are you here? I tread lightly, but I still lie on his bed, talk to him about my day, ask him about his and I'm out of there, clearing the million dishes and cups that he's been stocking up in there on my way out! I don't overstay by not-so-welcome welcome, just a couple of minutes, just in time before he starts getting annoyed that I'm still in his room.
My son knows that I love him more than life, and he knows that our home is a safe space. I respect him and the space he needs. Though I have given up trying to force things on him, he knows that I'm there and I'm not going anywhere. He's more than welcome to sit with me on the sofa for a movie or take me up on any one of the million requests to do something with me. I know at the moment, he'll mostly say no to most requests, and that's okay with me.
Teenagers are constantly thinking about themselves, their lives and the future that awaits them. It is a scary time for them. This is the time when their friends are an important support system outside of their parents. They want and need to be with friends, though in these times, it's mostly virtually. They need to belong to people who are going through the same thing and have the freedom to express themselves without thinking of filtering or how it would come across.
If they are in their room for days on end, it’s because they need it. It's really okay for them to want to be alone, and to leave them alone. It's perfectly normal for a parent to worry, but as long as your child is content and not demonstrating any alarming behaviour, then it's okay.
I've come to accept that he's a different person from what he was a few years ago. We all change. He is growing up and if this what he needs to do just that and find himself then so be it - I'll support him all the way.
I still do miss my son even though we live under the same roof, but I know he's all happy and content in that bubble of his behind that door. And I know he'll be out in a little while asking what we're having for lunch!