I stood at the kitchen sink the other night, staring blankly at the black granite basin while my hands scrubbed a pot, feeling melancholy in the silence of the house. Thane was still out fishing and Rowan was, as usual, sequestered in her room with the door closed. I thought, this is what it will be like when she's gone and I'm all alone. The silence was overwhelming.
Today, Rowan started sixth grade, officially moving up to Middle School. I expected her to bounce out of bed, eager to get dressed and get to her friends, but instead she called up to me, "Mama? Are you up?"
"I'm awake," I said, "but still in bed."
"Stay there," she commanded. "I'm coming up to cuddle."
She crawled in with me, falling asleep again after I got up to shower. I had to make her get up and get ready for the first day of school. As we drove to town, she said that she was maybe more nervous than excited.
In an effort to do a good job of raising my daughter, I read Girls will be Girls by JoAnn Deak (I highly recommend it) and have started Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World by Rosalind Wiseman. Several months ago, I read an interesting article on teen brains in National Geographic. The "experts" seem to be telling us that the way teens behave is innate and is a coping mechanism that helps prepare them for the adult world.
Teen behavior, with all its ups and downs, isn't really intended to drive us parents crazy. They just understand on some level that their future is tied to their peers, not their parents. Their success in the world depends more on members of their own generation than it does on older generations. As a result, teens begin to turn to their peers to fulfill their need for acceptance and approval rather than their families.
Of course, we parents hate this process. We're used to our children looking to us for approval. We see ourselves as being rejected, and we struggle to maintain our place in our children's worlds. Unfortunately, it's a losing battle. Eventually, they move away from us and have to find a way to survive the big, bad world on their own. We've done our best to raise them to have good morals and sound judgement, and we have to let them go, confident that there's nothing more we can do for them. They have to live their own lives and make their own mistakes.
I've heard it said by some that teens behave badly so that parents are glad to see them go when the time comes. Perhaps there's something to that idea. As I stood at the sink the other night, sad in the silence, it crossed my mind that the habit of teens to retreat to their rooms and withdraw from the family space also helps to prepare us for the near future. Maybe such withdrawl will help reduce the pain of the "empty nest."
In the meantime, I'll relish the moments when Rowan is still my little girl and wants to cuddle with me. I'll try to be patient during the times when it seems she's intentionally pushing my buttons, and I'll try to remember that how I react to her will teach her how she should react to others. I'll demand respect from her in the hopes that she'll demand respect for herself. And I'll keep giving her lots of cuddles as long as I can.