The Heartache of Parenting a Teenager

May 23, 2006

One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, had a funny and depressing — isn’t that what parenting is all about? — column in Salon about her teenaged son. The single mom is battling him on everything from car privileges — or lack thereof due to erratic driving — to household chores (or his refusal to complete them).

Recently I have begun to feel that the boy I loved is gone, and in his place, a male person who so pushes my buttons, with his moodiness, scorn and flamboyant laziness. People tell me that the boy will return, but some days that is impossible to imagine. And we were doing so well for a while, all those years until his junior year of high school, when the plates of the earth shifted inside him. I’ve loved and given him so much more than I ever have anyone else: And I’ll tell you, a fat lot of good it does these days.

I should not have been driving, but since I’d restricted Sam’s driving privileges, I couldn’t make him leave. So I drove along, a bib of tears and drool forming on my T-shirt. Why was he sabotaging himself like this, giving up his weekend, his freedom and his car, and for what? Well, I sort of knew the answer. This is what teenagers have to do, because otherwise they would never be able to leave home and go off to become their own people. Kids who are very close to their parents often become the worst shits, and they have to make the parent the villain, so they can break free without it hurting too much. Otherwise, the parent would have to throw rocks at them to get them out of the house. It would be like in “Sky King,” when the family has nursed the wounded animal back to health, and tries to release it back into the wilds, shooing it away — “Go ahead, Betty! You can fly!”

Oy vey. I feel for you, Anne. If my kid were driving like a maniac and freeloading off of me — by not completing his chores — I don’t know what I would do. It makes me want to put a padlock on my son’s bedroom door as soon as he turns 13.