Something’s happening in my house, and I’m not sure I like it. I am becoming increasingly irrelevant to my tweeny-child. Irrelevant is perhaps not the right word, but it’s hard to think of one that better captures my feelings. She turns her nose up at suggested activities that were once a mainstay of together time – like baking, or playing a board game, watching TV or going for a walk. She’ll leave a room if I settle down in it.
She’s perceptive enough to know something is afoot, even if she can’t quite understand it herself. When she gets up to leave, she’ll throw some sort of excuse over her shoulder. Something like “Oh, it is too hot in here” or “Mhh, I wonder where my book is?” I recognise that in that action she knows she might be hurting my feelings, and cares, but still would rather be somewhere else.
This is happening quite a bit, and to be honest, my feelings are quite bruised. I feel a bit like a bad smell, and it’s rather unpleasant. I’ve started down a well-worn path of taking it personally, thinking things like “After all I sacrificed…” or “What have I done wrong…?” or “What’s wrong with me…?”. And judgemental crap like that. It’s nonsense, and I know it’s nonsense. But rationality doesn’t stop those thoughts from at least having a jiggle around my head.
Because, deep in my heart I worry that it’s because I am not the fun parent. I don’t know when I stopped being fun. I think it was during labour. I am the parent that says no to donuts, fizzy drinks and questions their desire to eat sugar for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am the parent that yanks them off their devices and deprives them, apparently, from the source of all joy. I am the parent that makes them do their homework, and calls them out on it, and gets them out of bed and yells at them when they are late for school. I am the worrier parent (oh, how I wish that was the warrior parent, but, at least in this telling, I am not) who tells them to look out for stranger-danger and reminds them, every single time they venture to leave the house, to look both ways when they cross the road and not to be drawn in by strange people peddling puppies. I am the one that asks them where their Epipens are, and whether they have checked whatever they are eating for nuts.
I don’t mean to imply the other parent doesn’t do his share of un-fun parenting. He does, but as the one who has been there for most of the hours of their days, and is slightly more neurotic, I have more un-fun facetime with them.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, thinking your kids would want to be with you more if you were more fun to be around. It’s easy to blame yourself (we are mothers with guilt overload after all) and wonder where you went wrong. But it’s a dangerous game of ego that, and has nothing to do with reality. Of course, I suspect I’ve done lots wrong but that’s just parenting 101. No need to get knickers in knots about it.
I realise, perhaps more than anything else, these feelings relate to my role as mother and how it has formed a central part of my identity over the past decade. As the designated primary care giver, being fundamental to their lives has largely defined who I am for so long. And now that things are changing, that role is becoming less relevant. I am not irrelevant, the role is changing.
Because this is nature taking its course. It’s the drift, right? The growing up, pulling away, becoming an adult thing that is supposed to happen. I should be patting myself on the back, congratulating myself for making it this far. It’s not got anything to do with what I’ve done right or wrong in the parenting department. It’s about change. It’s a new phase, a new stage and I suspect it is time for me to look at what new parenting skills I need to redefine and forge a stronger and improved relationship with my soon-to-be teen.
Like appreciating her need for space, and acknowledging that it means I too can have space. And finding things that matter to her, in her new world to connect around.
It’s parenting at the next level, and it comes with some perks. For instance, I know when she connects with me, she really wants to. Sometimes she pulls me into a hug at bedtime, a fierce hug where I almost feel the child within her still residing, and we lie on her bed and discuss the thoughts going through her head. My constant admonishment to myself is: listen, make her feel heard and try very hard not to offer unsolicited advice.
And there are the flashes of the adult she will become. Her passionate outrage at the mistreatment of animals and the inherent cruelty of human beings, her desire to know more about things that are now within her intellectual reach (like how stuff works and the origins of the universe) and the types of outdoor interests she now pursues.
But more than my relationship with her, there is the space for me to refine my own identity. Space to work, space to write, space to eat in great restaurants, space to travel and time for theatre, museums and artistic adventures. Space and time to dedicate to things that interest me, as a human individual, not just as a mum. Space to grow into a bigger, better, more complex version of myself.
She’s not the only one growing up. I am discovering that if you let them, your kids help you grow up yourself.