You’ve heard of attachment parenting? Authoritative parenting? Holistic parenting? No matter what your parenting philosophy, it’s highly likely that by the time your kid is a teen, whatever you’ve been doing will need a
freaking ton little tweaking. That’s when you should make yourself familiar with potted plant parenting.
Yes, you read that right: Make like a house plant if you want to connect with your teen.
According to a recent New York Times article by Lisa Damour, author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood, what teenagers really want is for us to just be there, you know, like a plant. Keep in mind that plants don’t move much, are rarely the center of attention, and do not talk at all. Unless you have your own private Lorax, you will need to get used to staying quiet and just hanging out.
Like a potted plant, you must blend into the background. Don’t ask any pressing questions. Don’t offer any unsolicited advice. Don’t bombard your teenager with reminders, like when the school trip sign-up form is due. When she misses it, you will, however, be held responsible.
Parenting is challenging at any stage, but parenting a teenager has set my world order on its ear. I am no longer in constant demand because my daughter is semi-grown up and, lo and behold, capable of dealing with her day-to-day life herself. She handles her own schedule, both school and social, scores herself rides to and from practices, meetings, cafes and taco trucks. She’s a pro at making meals, can do her own laundry, and hardly ever needs reminding to meet a deadline, do her homework, or hurry up.
The only thing she seems to need me for is the Wi-Fi password and Amazon Prime. For those of us still raising young children (I also have a 5-year-old), being freed from many of the daily tasks of parenting is a welcome break. The downside is that spending less time together makes it challenging to stay connected, especially when my daughter is more interested in chatting with her friends than her dear old mom in the limited free time she has. I’m often left with a mouthful of words and heartfelt sentiments as she bounces out the door or into the sanctum of her bedroom.
This is an unsettling shift from the relationship I’ve come to rely on. My daughter and I butt heads plenty, but for the most part, we’ve always had a trusting, loving connection. It probably helps that we’re both talkers. I’m constantly checking in, asking about her friends, and cracking her up by being a total embarrassing goofball. Up until now, she’s been the girl who dishes the details about the school dance and buzzes about a career in astrophysics because who wouldn’t want to explore infinite universes?
Now, though, my check-ins are met with one or two word answers, or if I’m lucky, a bare-bones sentence. I know it’s typical for teens to rebuff their parents as they carve out their own identities, but that doesn’t make it any easier to live with. I try not to push it, but do you have any idea how hard it is to say nothing? Shutting up is not my strong suit, and yet, if I want to stay connected to my girl, it could be time to cool it on the conversation, grow branches, and unfurl my leaves.
Damour points out that, “Studies of parental presence indicate that sheer proximity confers a benefit over and above feelings of closeness or connectedness between parent and child.” So those few hours in the late afternoon when I’m firmly planted in the kitchen dealing with dinner or catching up on email and my daughter is pinging between her room and the fridge are actually more valuable than I’d thought. Who knows what kind of meaningful interaction might happen as my daughter lingers over her bagel and cream cheese? When it comes to parenting teens, simply being around is a thing.
I happen to be a SAHM, so I can be more physically present than a full-time working parent, but research shows that being present virtually is also impactful. Social media, texting, and FaceTime are all good ways to make contact. I’ve been known to text my daughter from a room away because, honestly, I know she’s more likely to respond. Whether it’s an hour or five, virtually or IRL, any time we spend hanging around our teens creates the opportunity to connect. Now, please excuse me while I quietly plant myself in the corner and hope someone remembers to water me.