When I discovered that I was going to be a father for the first time, I spent time reflecting on my own childhood as a gauge to help determine what kind of father I hoped to be and what I wanted to emphasize with the kids. One of the things that came back to me from my own father was the need to think – about problem-solving, about issues, about courses of possible (in)action (since doing nothing is also a possible route). This was something that I’d also try to inculcate among my kids but I broadened this to include helping them distinguish real meaning from the porridge bowl of crap presented by the various media. I wanted the kids to learn to examine something and be able to determine if it was a load of crap.
While I expected that it could come back to bite, it was in an intellectual sense and I didn’t expect it to be so personally difficult.
It was easier as the kids were younger but with the advent of the teen years, the questioning has become more personal and contentious. There are things that I understand from additional decades of life that a young teen simply cannot comprehend and trying to explain them can be difficult as the words come slowly, with difficulty. The conversation can reveal things about you that, for better or worse, smack of hypocrisy and teens can smell out hypocrisy like a hound on a scent. I sometimes honestly wonder after a conversation with a teen whether I’ve managed to get the import of my thoughts across or whether it’s been garbled into some mutant pretzel shape. And frankly, I believe that parents have a particular authority that flows from the sheer dint of parenthood and now I’ve got kids questioning me.
I can’t have it both ways, raising kids to question why things are as they are and yet excluding my own paternal authority. It isn’t fair to them, it undercuts everything that I’ve attempted to teach and it encourages distrust. So we’ve had some contentious moments with frustrated conversations that have broken off and come raggedly together again later as we attempt to knit together a common understanding from what feels like the jagged edges of sheared metal. There have been moments when I’ve begged off of the question at hand, openly stating that I wanted the opportunity to think about how I wanted to say something so that it made sense. There have likewise been moments when we’ve come together again as one of us has sought the other out and – as happened this weekend – I’ve had to acknowledge that the youth had legitimate points that required adaptation of my own actions.
The point is that communicating with teenagers isn’t always going to be comfortable and will take you far beyond your parental comfort zone. Expect turbulence and expect some hard feelings and dark moments, but also expect that you’re going to have to continue to engage with them as you both adapt.