Carson, the firstborn, turned seventeen yesterday. A few days prior, he informed me that our relationship has a (beautiful) problem.
Frankly, I had no idea. We’ve always been very close. We talk openly (shockingly open!), we hang out together, we joke, we share tearful conversations. I didn’t know of any malaise until a few days ago. I’ve heard that many parents and teens struggle through the arduous transition into adulthood, but this was a problem that I didn’t expect. Ironically, he told me as the two of us spent the morning together.
Sheree had stayed home with the other two offspring. As we two manly men sauntered through a local craft fair (dripping with testosterone and toughness, mind you), he blurted out:
“I wish Mom was here, too.”
“Really?” I asked. “Why?”
“I just miss us hanging out together.”
“You and Mom? Or you, Mom, and me?”
“Yes. Both. I wish we spent more time together.”
Sheree nor me would have N.E.V.E.R. said such a thing in High School! Yet here we are–with a seventeen year old, job-holding, pickup truck-driving, independent kid that wants to spend MORE time with us! Amazingly, all three of our kids enjoy our company. Truth be told–we enjoy them even more than they enjoy us! I’m not talking about the “I love you because you’re my kid” kind of love. I’m talking about “Who would I like to go chill with?” kind of enjoyment.
“How did this happen?!” I asked myself.
I could easily write
a blog a tome about my doofus Dad mistakes. But since the internet is finite, I’ll instead share a shorter list of tips that have helped our son grow into a teen who actually likes us. And one that we also like.
[Editorial note: Carson and his 2 younger siblings have contributed to this post. I asked them, “What have Mom and I done RIGHT with you guys?” It’s been a fascinating education. I’ve scribbled down 32 ideas, but I’m sharing the 8 that I think will be most interesting.]
- As soon as he could speak, we’ve always included him in adult conversations. Even as a toddler, when you’re at a table with adults, you get your turn to speak. It’s the natural flow of conversation! Have you ever been in a group where a certain person was there, but ignored? [Remember Jr. High?] It’s awkward and rude. Why do that to a kid? How else will they learn to speak up, and when to be quiet? When an entire group of adults directs their attention to a kid, it sends a clear message: “Your thoughts are important! You are important.” Today, one of C’s favorite buddies is a 65 year old friend of mine. If you think that Carson can’t hold his own in a conversation, listen to those two!
- “We talk about REAL LIFE.” This hearkens back to the elementary school days. When his conversation started with, “I saw this _____ on TV!” we stopped him. “Nope! We talk about REAL LIFE,” I’d say. Talk to me about your teachers, your friends, something you heard, something you saw . . . just not something on TV or the internet. That’s not real life.
- Manners matter, Mom & Dad! Show “unnecessary” gratitude. Just as oil lubricates an engine, manners help relationships run smoothly. I’m not talking about my kids’ good manners, I’m talking about mine! I try to show good manners to my kids, even when I don’t “have” to. Our kids know when it’s their duty to clean the kitchen, clean their rooms, walk the dog, mow the lawn, do the laundry, etc. These chores are required: No payment, no bonus points. Our home is no democracy! Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt my soul to ask, “Would you please clean your room?” Or, “Thank you for cleaning the kitchen.” We’re a Monarchy, but a polite one. Manners show honor, respect, and appreciation.
- Apologize and seek forgiveness. I hate this one. Again, I’m talking about me, not my kids. When I know that I’m wrong, I must apologize and seek forgiveness (two different things). I demand this behavior from my kids; why would I exempt myself? Sadly, there is no statute of limitations here. When I remember offenses from years ago, I still own them. If I can remember them, the kids surely do, too!
- One-on-one trips. My kids deserve their Dad’s undivided, individual attention. Honestly, though, it’s often difficult for me to give. A one-on-one trip forces me to leave work, other voices, and normal responsibilities behind. This doesn’t have to be elaborate! A quick day trip, an overnight camping trip, or a big excursion–all of them allow time to connect. The photos you see here, incidentally, are from a week that C and I spent in Seaside, Florida, this summer. I’d been commissioned to photograph a few families on the beach, so off we went. And I actually scheduled a session for my own child!!!!!
- When you earn your driver’s license, it’s time for a road trip. How does a new driver gain confidence? By driving. And driving. And driving. C burned through a few hundred miles within 3 days of his new license. I can attest, by the way, that Kansas is an AWESOME place for this exercise! [“Just drive straight, then drive more straighter. Keep going until we reach not-straight.”] This not only trains a new driver, it allows time to talk. Added bonus! It’s an amazing exercise for your glutes! Ride for hours with a newly-minted driver, and your booty will clinch like it’s been tasered.
- Be the student, not the teacher. We spend our lives teaching our kids. It’s wonderful to switch roles! I relish the times when my kids teach me about the day’s history or science lessons. I’ve learned so much! [Math, however, is the devil’s language. I don’t want to hear that crap.] My grandfather and father were brilliant woodworkers, a skill that apparently skips the 3rd generation. Carson has the gift, and it’s been fun learning from him. And it’s a tremendous confidence boost when a kid realizes “I know something that Mom or Dad doesn’t!”
The eighth tip for a teen you’ll like is actually the most profound. It’s the tool that has kept communication lines open, even during difficult conflicts. In our home, we call it “Free Talk.” Free Talk has allowed me continued access to the private world of my kids’ hearts. It’s important enough that I want to give it special attention . . . in the next blog. FIND IT HERE.