Parenting #101: “Still life with teenager”

My teenage son and I are standing in the kitchen. His face is pointed down because he has a tough time making eye contacting with me when we are butting heads. He has returned home from his dad’s and he’s full. I have been informed he will not be joining us for dinner because he has already eaten pizza. He has decided to go out with his friends instead.

“Nope,” I answered.

“Nope? What does that even mean?” he asks as his voice begins to rise. At this point, I know enough about teenagers to know he will always out argue me. Teens have the stamina of Tyson in the ring when it comes to fighting it out for their perceived “rights”. So I keep my points clear and my statements short.

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“It means you are going to sit at the table with us as a family while we eat. If you are full and do not want to eat, you don’t have to, but you will be with us while we eat.”

“That is so dumb,” he responds, and perhaps he is right, but I also know enough to know that if he eats or does not, he will still gain the one important benefit of our dinners together: a chance to be together as a family. Some parents will become worn down by this. They take it personally and may even acquiesce because they don’t want to “force” someone to be with them, but that is the worst thing they can do if their main goal is to keep communications open with their teen. I ignore the “dumb” comment because it’s a trap.

“Either way, you will sit with us and have dinner and then you can go out with your friends,” I say happily as if the solution is perfect, though we both know this isn’t true.

“Okay, and then I can stay out until 8:30?” He asks even though he knows the answer.

“8:00. It is getting dark out by 8:30.” He doesn’t like this answer either despite the fact that we have had this conversation already.

“Okay, I will be home at 8:30,” he smiles. “Or maybe later,” he continues. “Who knows…I may not come home at all.” A less well versed parent could easily be lured here. I definitely feel the prickles of control all through my body when he talks this way. My baby, my son, who is now four inches taller than me, thinks he can throw his weight around, but I have learned too much from teaching teens for 20 years to fall for this.

“Oh, Cole, is that what you need to do?” I ask as I stop chopping the tomatoes for the burgers. I look him in the eye. “I understand, Buddy. Okay, you do what you need to do and we’ll figure it out. I respect your choice to come home when you want if it’s that important to you, but before you do, I just want to say good luck.” I put my hand on his arm when I say this and give him my most understanding face I could muster. He laughs.

“Yeah,” he responds. “Good luck.” And there it is. We both understand each other. I understand that he needs to be who he is and try the limits to figure out where he is, and he understands that I am not going to go down without a fight. But by talking about the consequence like it is going to happen to him and be bestowed by someone other than me makes it all feel so much better. I am not throwing my weight around. I am merely just acknowledging the solid and unending truth that his behavior still has consequences. Take them or leave them, but either way, I am pulling for you. It really takes the sting out of it.

As soon as dinner is over, Cole hops on his bike and takes off for his friend’s house. He is gone about an hour and returns shortly after 7:30.

“Hey, buddy,” I smile as he walks into the house, sweaty from riding his bike.

“Hey, momma,” he returns.

“Good time with your friends?”

“Yep,” he says. “I’m getting a Coke and then taking a shower.”

“Okay, love ya.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

And such ends our night.

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