Adolescence & Grief by Rea Wright
March 23, 2017
Loss in the Twilight Zone
You’ve just finished a nice chai latte, you’re relaxed, happy and looking forward to seeing your child after a long day at school. Perhaps you even imagine a smile on her face, a warm and eager embrace, followed by a happy description of the day’s events. You open the door to welcome your teen home, and suddenly your warm and fuzzy illusion; coupled with that calm and happy disposition, implode. Reality strikes…oh NO, that’s right, she’s a teenager! You gasp stunned and in shock as she marches through the door without so much as a hello or even a glance in your direction. “Where’s my phone? School sucks…it’s so boring…don’t ask…,” is about all you get and then the drama begins. You know what I’m talking about…the lip smacking, the whatevers, the eye rolling (sometimes I think they roll right back into her eye sockets), ‘tude popping everywhere, the anger, and then the sarcasm!!! Oh that scathing, sneering sarcasm. Yes? Am I right? Perhaps you experience small versions of this scenario, though sometimes they may be far worse.
Good ‘ole adolescence, the twilight zone, when living between the familiarity of childhood and the allure of adulthood, is both a turbulent and dynamic part of a teen’s life. No longer children but not yet adults, teens struggle with issues of independence and self-identity, disorientation and discovery. Peer groups and external appearance tend to increase in importance, while family and parents, though still needed, are generally of lesser concern. Adolescence is that angst inducing period during which young people develop abstract thinking abilities, increase their independence from parents, become more aware of their sexuality and develop a clearer sense of psychological identity.
Well at least that’s the hope, and a hard one to hold onto, when your beautiful teen seems to both regress and mature in the same breath. This push-pull of adolescence has long been chronicled in books, movies and theatre, and yet it remains a difficult and somewhat painful experience for parents and teens alike.
Teens today struggle with the additional burdens of fast and ever changing technology, access and exposure to social media in multiple formats, higher divorce rates, easy access to drugs and alcohol, and parents who are increasingly stressed by the demands of work and family life. Parenting a teen is often an exercise in fine art of balance, between providing adequate freedom and responsibility, setting limits and boundaries and providing a safety net should your child falter, fail or fall.
And so it goes, the treatise on the woes of parenting and being an adolescent. But lets talk about You as parents for a change. What is it really like for you as a parent of a teen? I’m not talking about the “10 tips to get your teen talking to you” stuff. I’m talking about your internal struggle as you watch your teenager grow and change. What does it feel like? Do you really give yourself the space to think about your loss and pain, especially with the first tug on that invisible umbilical chord? Some of us feel that first big tug at two when your wee one begins to say “NO”, but are you ever prepared for the pain, the loss and helplessness you feel when you can’t seem to reach your teen, or you feel like you’re losing your child as he or she experiments with different personalities and personhoods? Or even worse, when you really, really don’t like the persona your child may be experimenting with!
What do you experience when your amazing child communicates through grunts and stares or worse yet, yells and screams, her words dripping with sarcasm, disdain or flat out disrespect? Then there’s the terrifying fear of sex, drugs and suicidal ideation, (which seems to be growing in epidemic proportions) and all the complexities tied to them.
We spend a lot of time analyzing teens and talking about the stress and storm of adolescence and perhaps not enough time talking about the sadness and loss that we as parents experience as our children pull away, and grow into their young adult Selves. I agree that it’s a natural part of the ebb and flow of life but it doesn’t lessen the agony of it all. There are days when I yearn to hold my baby in my arms and rock her like I used to. And some days when she’s in a generous and loving mood, (which does indeed happen on occasion), she will indulge me while proclaiming, “Mom, you’re really weird!” I’m not sure my son will indulge me so!
When you pour your heart and soul into raising your wee ones into kind, generous, happy, curious, capable, responsible beings, it is imperative to give yourself some time and space to grieve! Acknowledging and grieving the loss this separation brings, is in many ways vital and important to successfully launching your children.
We are uncomfortable talking about and dealing with Grief as a society. We’ve forgotten how to mourn our losses. Grief is not something we’re happy talking about with friends or spouses, or at times even willing to admit to ourselves. Grief isn’t just about losing a loved one, it’s about all those little losses that add up and get repressed throughout our lives. Your little one is separating from you and that’s a deeply emotional and painful experience, just as it’s an incredibly beautiful and positive change.
I can recall one of my clients saying just recently, “I feel like I’m losing my boy, he’ll never be the same….”. If perhaps your identity has been wrapped up in your kids, chances are the wrench is going to feel deeper and more painful. And if perchance Your own adolescence was painful and difficult, your emotions may be more complicated than you realize. Amidst the pain and loss of separation is also an element of fear…fear for your kids as they experiment; fear for their future; fear about the choices they are making and perhaps fear that they are going to make some of the same mistakes you did!
So do yourself a favor and spend some time thinking about all this and the notion of grieving your loss, and perhaps you’ll have some more room for all that eye rolling and lip smacking. And if you’re not sure how, start by just jotting some thoughts down on paper. Perhaps talk to a trusted friend or family member. Give yourself permission to get nostalgic and go through old photographs and write/journal as you do so. Be patient with yourself and pay attention to the emotions that rise up. Perhaps even write a letter to your teen, but remember this is for you, so DO NOT give the letter to him!! Give yourself some time and space and know that this phase probably won’t last very long.
Acknowledge that grieving is a necessary, important and healthy part of every major change in life. Each and every one of us processes and deals with loss differently. Know that you are not alone in this…. your teen is struggling with her own losses too, as are the parents of most of her friends! This too shall pass, as it’s just a necessary part of healthy development for us all, especially as we attempt to live happy, healthy, joyful lives. Yes, these are the joys of parenthood!
Originally from Mumbai, India, Réa currently lives and works in Davidson, North Carolina.