Parents of adolescents don’t have much fun.
Fun, for many parents of teenagers, is something they watch their children have. Fun at school, fun at the mall, fun on the playing field, fun at parties. What used to be happy times as a family with pre- and elementary school children has transitioned into good times for the teens, and being the ones who not only pay for those, but also drive the kids to and from these teen-centered events. Having given up weekend after weekend, night after night, to manage my children’s sports, music, church, school and friend events, I feel like an event planner. Always making things happen, invisible to the guests, never getting to sit at the head table or get out on the dance floor.
This is what many middle aged parents find when they get to the second decade of their children’s lives. A child centered life, but with no emotional reward. No smiling toddler looking back at you as they climb up the slide. No proud 10 year old eager to show you off to their teacher or coach. Instead, the parent must now watch their child’s back as they saunter, without a second glance, into the gym, store, house or ball field. The parent ready to drive, wait, and pick that child up when the event is through.
Do I sound resentful?
I have been thinking about my emotions around the lack of fun adult time in my life. Perhaps it has something to do with where we live, a suburb full of families in some stage of doing what we’re doing. Years back, when I lived in a small town, adults made time for one another and the kids were expected to come along. One of my closest friends, having moved to Alaska, regularly reports her time spent with other adults in her small town, running, eating, fund raising, skiing, church building. What happened back in our shiny suburb?
I know for my husband and me, these years of chauffeuring came on slowly, incrementally, at the same time we had to manage some serious work and health issues. It was like an emotional tossed salad, trying to keep it all together. We managed to keep the whole one piece, but the pleasure in parenting? the joy in the week? I’m looking, but it’s not so obvious anymore.
For families that don’t have the funds to finance big vacation cruises, or a second home on the lake, these adolescent days are hard. There is no natural escape. Add into these adolescent effects a divorce, or an elderly parent, a job loss or a health or financial crisis and you see why most of the families I see in therapy are families with teens. We are adults without the focus of small children, adults without the freedom of retirement or the adjustment of an empty nest. We are hobbled, and stressed, and under-appreciated.
We are struggling to re-define ourselves and what brings us joy. If we look chronically worn to you, don’t ask us to explain. Just give us a hand, and invite us to dinner. Without our kids.