There are those members of the human race (or so I’ve heard) who suddenly know just what their ‘thing’ is, one magical day somewhere between the ages of eleven and thirteen. Such mysterious creatures nurture their passion through the long years of adolescence, pursue higher education on the same theme, and apparently sail away over the horizon into adulthood on a smooth, warm breeze.
And then there are the rest of us, doomed to a long and at times quite frustrating journey of trial and error when it comes to finding a subject or activity that really makes us want to get up in the morning (or stay up late!) and enjoy life. Our experience may better be described as a ride in several different boats of varying shape and quality, one or two of which leak (or sink) part-way, or simply don’t serve us well, so have to be replaced. Our journey does not always take place in the best of weather, or on smooth waters, and at times we don’t have any help. Sometimes the ride is fun. Sometimes it’s scary. We often change our minds about which way to go and how quickly we should be going. When we finally reach the horizon, we are confronted with conflicting emotions. Is this really ‘it’? Am I in the right place? Did I take a wrong turn anywhere? Do I have what it takes to make the rest of the journey? Is my boat good enough?
I would like to think that for some parents, the ever-changing feelings and thoughts their youth is subject to as they explore ‘Who I Am’ might be just Another Stage of Growth that can be mastered without an inordinate amount of difficulty, thanks to the parent’s own solid foundation and mature outlook. (Yes, it is a wonderful idea!)
It would appear that quite often, witnessing our offspring navigate through this very confronting stage of life brings along with it a few metric tonnes (isn’t that how they measure water?) of difficult memories and feelings. It is not so easy to be reminded, daily, with full emotional charge, of our own bumpy trip through early adulthood. And frankly, of emotions that likely still trouble us as fully grown people. Even if we have spent our time wisely, adults all face times of confusion and uncertainty. This makes it especially difficult to be forced by circumstance to remember how seasick we felt back when we too were just beginning our journey out of childhood. When we didn’t know . . . much. And couldn’t be too sure what we truly felt good about. Or perhaps whom we could trust. Or why things happened the way they did.
Any one of these topics is enough to make anyone lunge for the nearest floatation device and leap off the offending boat, doggy paddling and hollering for their life! Facing them all, all at once, every day, is enough to – well – require a great deal of deep breathing. Possibly even Yoga or Tai Chi or some other form of calming exercise. Soothing cups of tea. The occasional action movie to ‘let off steam’. Yelling (or crying) in a pillow. Copious amounts of fresh air. Quiet time. You get my drift. Even the most luxurious cruise ships – you know the ones, with indoor swimming pools and malls and so forth – cannot avoid the effects of a serious storm. The symptoms are felt by all, rich and poor, and must be coped with as best we can. If we jump off, we drown. Better to ‘batten down the hatches’, hold on and not panic!
I am told that the Times of Trial facing the parent of a teen are just a passing storm. I am reminded by the well-intended that This Too Shall Pass and it’s just a bumpy ride. One day she likes Physics, the next it’s rock climbing – a week later we’re on to fashion design, and then lo and behold, Physics reappears on the menu along with fashion design. Next it’s fashion design without physics. Followed by a bleak period involving none of the above – only a slight inclination toward becoming a lawyer. But maybe not. How about tennis? A friend wears the same type of shorts (oh horror!) and the conversation and emotional turmoil is redirected, without much relief for the parent involved. I feel like there is hardly time to catch my breath!
It is a challenge figuring out how to be supportive through all of these changes. Should I nurture the Thing of the moment – or will that just put pressure on a ‘fancy’ and ruin the fun? Should I back off and take things lightly – or will that translate as a lack of support or enthusiasm and take the wind out of her sails? It seems that everyone I talk to can recall a Thing they wish their parents had done more to support them in. (‘I wish my parents had forced me to keep going with my piano lessons . . .’) And another Thing that a parent decided was a good idea, which was given a certain weight and supported by lessons or discipline of some sort – and which the person finally couldn’t stand! (‘I had to go to youth orchestra rehearsals all summer!’) It seems that the teen years pose questions that have no simple answers for anyone.
Without a Recipe for Success (only Hard Tack on the menu for now), I guess we just have to focus on the basics once again: Love is the most important thing. Patience is still a necessity, not a virtue. Our youth always needs to be reassured that they are wanted and loved just because they’re there. And so do we! We can’t take the sometimes painful blows of the blustery rain too personally – it’s just rain. Waves that drench the innocent bystander are not the same as a pre-meditated splash. Likewise emotional outbursts and wildly varied reactions by our teens are not aimed to hurt – they’re just symptoms of stormy weather. Hopefully, if we focus on our best intentions (and remind our offspring of their better qualities), we’ll all find our sea legs sooner than later. And reach the next shore without getting too much saltwater up our noses! Perhaps there is even a hoard of buried treasure to be found somewhere en route . . . 🙂
Image: edited detail from painting by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky