The other morning my best friend and I were finally able to connect on the phone. I’ve desperately been wanting to talk to her but our schedules never match up. When her toddler is napping, I’m running my three teens around town. When I’m up late and can talk, she’s spent and lying down with her child to try and get her to sleep.
Before I know it, I’ve gone weeks without talking to another parent because my kids’ activities and busy schedules leave me feeling like I am training for an ultra-marathon and there is literally no fucking time to visit a friend for a cup of tea and tell them about my teen-parent angst.
I wasn’t prepared for this — the lingering loneliness I’d feel after my kids turned into young adults who sprout acne, forget their laptops in the car, and need emotional support because their heart breaks every other day from some kid whose parents are trying to wade through this mess like I am.
But the thing is, you can’t tell just anyone about their broken hearts. You can’t vent about the fact your 10th grader is struggling with grades or dabbled in smoking pot. And you can’t confess that you suspect your daughter has an eating disorder. You can’t exactly come out with an, “I caught my son stealing from the corner store, does your kid do that?”
Because these aren’t just your stories to tell. And you have to choose (very carefully) those you trust — fellow parents who truly want to help and won’t let your secret overflow to the rest of the parents in the PTA meeting. And it’s no easy task.
You become even more selective of your circle once your kids reach middle school because you might not have that child who wins track meets and makes the honor roll.
Some folks might say they don’t judge you for having kids who screw up and won’t look down on you or your kids. But they do.
Maybe it’s because it makes them feel better about their secrets they won’t let out the bag. Maybe it’s because they can’t relate. Who knows. Whatever the reason, parenting teenagers is lonely AF.
The whispers come in softly behind your back, or through a sideways glance.
And the judgment comes in hard. You get advice and criticism from those who have never parented a teen and still have innocent elementary-aged children who don’t know what juuling or porn is, and will point their finger and tell you you are doing it all wrong with no remorse.
You will drop your teenage son off at his friend’s house and you will want to ask their parents if their son or daughter is going through the same anxiety about school work.
You will want to know how many hours they spend in their room and compare it to how much your child hunkers down in their room.
You will be curious about how many times they check their kids’ phones and if they’ve had the sex talk once a month like you have.
You will hear their child has gotten caught with weed or notice they quit playing soccer and have gotten stoic, and you will want to check in. But you won’t because you don’t know them like you knew other parents when your kids were little — when you spent hours on the park bench and got to know each other through exchanged stories of blowouts and cleaning everything; baby wipes and your lack of sleep; and the fact you child runs a fever whenever they break a tooth; and how your sex drive is gone.
You won’t reach out on your Facebook support group because it would be breaking your child’s trust — no teenager wants it to be known they got caught cheating or have been bullied since the 6th grade.
No, being a teen is humiliating enough and you try to reach out to them everyday because you know if they’d just accept half the help you are willing to give them, they would feel better. After all, you have been there.
But they don’t, and that’s when your loneliness reaches epic proportions because you feel rejected, helpless, and more alone than ever. Because it seem no one understands even a sliver of your life.
The thing I have learned, though, as I’ve tried my very best to tackle the teenage woes, is everyone is going through something. EVERYONE.
If someone presents their life and their teen’s life all shiny and new on the outside, it doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling with their own shit. Because they are. They just aren’t talking about the downs because they don’t have time and feel like they don’t know what to say or how to deal.
As parents of teens, we have this thing that we do — we wrap ourselves up in the turmoil and try to control it on our own. We want nothing more than to keep the troubles under wraps to protect our child, to protect ourselves.
Then you reach a stage where you can’t hold it in anymore and need to talk to someone to get your mind right.
Yeah, parenting teens can be a lonely place, but no one tells you or prepares you for just how lonely.