At last, the moment I feared would one day come has finally arrived, albeit somewhat later than I expected. I was grateful for the delay – any delay really - because I dislike conflict with my kids. And she's so sweet and sensitive and smart; I don't want to wage battles that might crush her. And she's strong; I don't want to be crushed by her in battle. And we are entering a power shift where she has slightly more and I have slightly less. It's time to move more carefully and watch for the newly installed landmines that are a feature of Teenager v15.6.
I think the lateness of this stage encouraged me to hope that maybe this moment wouldn't come at all. That maybe we would be different. That we wouldn't have to go through what I went through with my parents. What he went through with his parents. What our parents went through with their parents. What a maroon.
It's silly to say but I thought that maybe, just maybe, I was so good at this parenting thing that we would be able to skip over the (seemingly) inevitable "I hate you" phase. Our girls would grow up, graduate, go to college, get jobs, move away – but not too far, and call us on the phone every day, loving us just as fiercely as the day we met.
Seriously, I was determined. My girl would not hate her parents.
On the one hand I know that pulling away from one's parents and rebelling is part of the process and it's important. Kids need to be able to engage in conflict in a safe space with safe authority figures so they can develop and practice skills needed for later, when the ones they will engage in conflict will be less unfailing in their affection.
On the other hand, it's soooo much nicer when we get along. When I don't have to nag about chores, healthy food, the state of the kitchen, the state of her room, etc.. When she sweetly tucks her head into the crook of my neck (my god, she is so tall) and coos "maman." This is much, much nicer.
So the tantrum, with its DefCon 2 levels of emotion, caught both him and me by surprise. And out of range of appropriate shelter, I might add.
We were in the car.
With a very angry teenager.
The reason she was angry is not important enough to share. It's not even a single reason. It's a virtual potpourri (emphasis on pourri) of reasons, some real, some manufactured and all thrown in to the pot for good measure. She actually yelled at us, which was impressive. Then she stopped yelling and stomped out of the car, having perhaps decided that she would create only a minor scene in front of the house (The neighbors!).
She did not back down from her father's scolding; she challenged it. Then she stormed up the stairs and shut her bedroom door with purpose –without actually slamming it. Smart. Called to dinner, she arrived but would not eat. She did not talk to us. She went to bed early and angry.
We let her, even though this is counter to our own "never go to bed when we're arguing" marriage philosophy. However, nothing we are saying was actually working, so maybe sleep would.
And it did...kind of.
She came downstairs the next morning wrapped in a blanket. She was sleepy-eyed and contrite and I gave her a big hug while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Hugs are great but I wasn't fooled, this skirmish wasn't over yet. This fury didn't come from nowhere, and one way or another we'd have to talk things through until we got to the source – even if that means going to Teenage Ground Zero (currently in beta, this level is tentatively scheduled for v16.8).
She doesn't want to talk about it anymore. She wants the whole thing to go away because she doesn't want to be mad, doesn't want me to be mad, is exhausted from the force of her emotions. But in no time the grievances start to seep out. Things I said that came across the wrong way. Perceived parental preferences that compared her – very unfairly – to her sister. Events and transgressions that seemed innocuous at the time, but which turned out to be greatly injurious to a girl who is less and less a child but not quite an adult. She had a pile of pourri to share with me.
Sincere apologies are issued on both sides. For a moment we understand each other and are back on level ground. Well, the version of level ground that has me with most of the power and her with somewhat less. Which is just how I like it. ;-)
But I can see the future, the one I'd been hoping to avoid. And I understand now, in a way I didn't before, all of the jokes about flash-freezing teenagers and thawing them out when they're 28. Just think of the money that would save.
Resistance is futile as they say, and before you know it we will battle again. And she will experiment with fighting back and hurting our feelings, not because she's mean, but because she has to see if she can do it. I only hope I can stand the auto-update version upgrades that will arrive every month until we get to Woman 1.0, when I feel certain she'll be a reasonable, strong and wonderful person. Who loves her parents again.