“There are times when parenthood seems nothing more than feeding the hand that bites you.” ― Peter De Vries
The boy-child had a hissy fit the other day. A real storm out of the room, “I don’t have to listen to this shit from you” hissy fit.
For the purposes of this post it doesn’t matter what it was about (shoes, actually), because of course it was what parents and kids generally fight about – boundaries. It was a territorial dispute, a skirmish into the no-man’s land that constitutes much of the space between teenagers and their parents.
What matters is that I felt hurt and angry and I handled it as badly as the boy-child. The skirmish was on the brink of becoming a war.
Normally, I remember that I’m the parent and I go and make things better. I apologise for my shitty behaviour, and he apologises for his and détente is achieved. But this time we were both too pissed off. We didn’t talk to each other for the rest of the day, and only really made up because the big T. couldn’t stand the thought of the two people he loves best being so mean to each other.
When I say we made up; we both apologised and (I thought) listened to each other’s point of view and agreed some compromises. Turns out we apologised, I listened to his point of view and I made some compromises.
Now, just short of a week later, we’re back in the same place. Only this time I feel really hurt and angry. War is looming!
Let me make one thing really clear. My son is really great kid. He’s funny, clever, honest, affectionate, works hard (and well) at school, doesn’t get drunk or take drugs, stays in touch when he’s out, is capable of great kindness and of enormous commitment to the things he’s interested in.
I appreciate all of those things. I love not stressing out that he might fail his exams. I mostly like the kids he hangs out with and I love that I’m not constantly worrying that he’s out getting drunk and obnoxious and making trouble. I love that he makes me laugh and I still get hugs and that he tells me when he has done dumb stuff. I hope he trusts that as long as he’s honest, I won’t condemn and will try to help him out if he needs it.
But I hate being taken for granted. I hate that he thinks it’s ok to come home, disappear into his room and only emerge to eat.
I hate that I feel like I have to construct every request to him like a multi-million dollar contract and I still have to “go to court” over the details.
I hate that texts, FaceBook messages and likes/comments on YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, whatever take precedence over interaction with the actual humans who feed, clothe, bankroll and chauffeur him around.
I hate that he waits until the last moment to ask me to do things for him (and I hate myself for usually dropping everything and doing it).
Most of all, I hate that he promises to do things and then forgets – not just occasionally, but a whole lot of the time. And I hate that when I remind him of this, he gets angry and mean, and I feel bad.
He’s fifteen. He’s talking about leaving home in a couple of years when he’s finished school. That’s cool. I support him in that. But I don’t really want to send him out into the world without some basic life skills, like the ability to feed himself, live to a budget, do his own laundry – and co-exist with other people who are not his parents and are SO NOT going to run around after him.
I figure he needs to learn those skills now – and, as a bonus, while he’s learning them, I get some relief from the domestic stuff that I (mainly) do now. Win, win?
Only he doesn’t see it that way. Well he does – in theory. It’s just in the practice of those life-skills that we have a problem. He forgets; I get grumpy; he gets pissed-off with me for being grumpy; his dad tries to be the voice of reason; he gets pissed-off with his dad too. He says I pick on him over small things – I say it’s because I only ask him to do small things.
Hell, I’m exhausted just writing this.
I recognise that a lot of what I’m unhappy about is that my expectations of him are not being met. Deep down, I believe that because I’ve tried to raise him in a thoughtful, respectful way – quite unlike my own upbringing – he ought to be grateful and comply willingly with my (very reasonable) requests. But of course he isn’t. What he has is just normal for him. He has no idea what my childhood was like. Or his father’s for that matter.
He has no idea what it feels like to live in a house where blind obedience is expected; where “because I say so” constitutes sufficient explanation for behavioural expectations and life-changing decisions. For most of his life he’s not only been informed – but consulted – in family decision-making.
He doesn’t know what it’s like get so used to never being given anything you want, that you not only stop asking, but forget how to want. Nor does he know how it feels to never be good enough, or to be ignored because you’re not as needy and demanding as your siblings.
He’s the only child of educated, articulate, middle-class parents – both of whom are probably trying to heal the hurt of our own childhoods by making the boy-child’s up-bringing so completely different to our own.
So what do I do? I don’t want to fight with my son, and I certainly don’t want it to be over the small stuff. I recognise that I’m starting to feel so exhausted by the frequency of the stand-offs between us that I’m beginning to withdraw. I find myself thinking that if he doesn’t emerge from his room to at least ask when dinner is, then I won’t call him when it’s ready and he can eat by himself when he does finally turn up. And if he can’t get himself out of bed in the morning for school, then he can just be late – it’s not my job to wake him and cop his grumpy mood.
But I don’t want to be that person. I am still the parent, and I am afraid that if I withdraw much more from the relationship, he won’t have the understanding or the skills to reach out and try to fix it. I don’t want our already fragile family to end up living like apartment neighbours; nodding our acquaintance in the hall.
When I sat down to write this, I hoped that by the end I would know what to do; that the processes of writing and editing would provide answers. Sadly, they haven’t.
So, my intelligent, thoughtful readers – I turn to you. Suggestions on a postcard (or at least in the little comment box at the bottom of this post).