Sometimes it’s hard to put into words how I feel about my sons. Though regular readers here have no doubt seen some of my humble attempts to do that in past blog posts.
But this struggle has become even more pronounced as I watch my sons grow year after year and change in ways most unexpected.
I wish I had a way of video-recording every daily encounter or conversation. To playback and help me piece together my ongoing learning journey of being a dad!
Now as another year draws to a close, I find myself once again thinking what this past year has been and where the new year will take me in my parenting journey.
Parenting – the “toughest room in Vegas”
If the various aspects of life were game rooms in Vegas, then parenting’s got to be the toughest room to win.
One of the greatest challenges I face as a parent is how to stay connected with my kids as they morph from baby to toddler to child to teen and beyond.
Any seasoned parent will tell you that at every stage, a different bag of tricks is needed to navigate the evolving personalities of our charges. And you can’t borrow a bag from another parent; you need your own!
For me right now, the biggest challenge is parenting teenagers.
Not an easy thing to do, especially since teenager as a phase of life is a pretty recent concept in the convoluted history of mankind!
Meaning, there’s still a lot we don’t quite know about this strange creature in our house!
Teenage sons and daughters — a recent phenomenon
But it never really caught on.
Even until World War II, the term teenagers rarely appeared in the popular press.
According to Thompson, teenager as a phase of life only emerged in the middle of the 20th century thanks to the confluence of trends in education, economics, and technology.
With compulsory education becoming more the norm everywhere, schools gave young folks a place of their own, so to speak. There, they could build a separate culture away from the watchful eye of their parents.
With economic development, young people also found themselves with the ability to earn income from internships, vacation jobs, etc. That means they are less reliant on parents to be their “moneybags.” Now, they can harness their own purchasing powers in ways unheard of in medieval times of jowl-to-jowl apprenticeships that provided only food and board.
Finally, as Thompson wrote, ever-advancing technology in recent decades has translated into greater flexibility and autonomy. Kids no longer need moms and dads to ferry them from place to place or arrange get-togethers with their friends.
For that, we have to thank all manner of mobility and mobile devices that continue to evolve at a rapid pace even now.
And so, all these trends have precipitated the birth of this “new” demographic we call teenagers.
The silent treatment from sons
All the above just means one thing to me: parenting my sons will only get more challenging with age, not less!
But the challenges are far more subtle than the so-called straightforward stuff when they were still little runts.
That’s certainly become very true for my sons.
It feels on many days like they have disappeared from beneath my hawkeye gaze and returned from school and the outside world changed.
For instance, “How was your day? What happened in school?” are questions universally asked by parents.
I’m no different.
Yet more often than not, the replies from my kids sound more like rumbles and grunts than actual words. Assuming they would even bother to reply!
But thankfully for me, there is a silver lining or two on the horizon.
A few recent incidents this year told me that the dynamics of the relationship and interaction between my firstborn and me have undergone some major shifts. Shifts that may yet auger well for a deeper and more fulfilling father-son bond than ever before.
Silver lining #1 — Mr Cool
The first thing I noticed is that when I launch into a session of “scolding”, my eldest will initially respond with what’s now the normal teen comebacks I’ve come to accept.
But after a while, I noticed he quiets down and merely listens in silence. His facial expression is a combination of deep concentration and some slight measure of annoyance. But always just short of being rude.
And always calm and cool.
It’s quite a sight to behold.
There I am, voice escalating as I berate him for a chore undone, an appointment botched, or some other oversight. Or, as it’s more often the case this millennial age, excessive screen time.
And there he is, listening with a poker face that would baffle any one of the members of Ocean’s 13!
At times it’s almost hilarious.
For a part of me seems to be observing the exchange with a growing realization I’ve no clue what he’s thinking. Or how he’s processing the situation. Is he fuming inside with resentment growing, but keeping a lid on it? Or is he reflecting on his behavior and accepting that what I say makes sense?
After a while, when I calm down and he proceeds to complete the task or whatever it was I asked, I suddenly find myself feeling silly. Like I overdid the histrionics when I went into my parenting ‘tirade’, when in fact a gentle word would have turned away any wrath.
And it hit me that maybe my son understood that better than his blockhead of a dad, which is why he kept his peace and didn’t argue back after a while.
Right there and then I find my admiration for my son growing.
Silver lining #2 — Mr Astute
The second thing I noticed about him is how our conversations when we’re alone together have become more mature and adult-like almost.
Like the other day when we went shopping together. Just us two.
As we walked, we talked about various things. They included movies and family stuff, but mostly about life.
Some of his insights really surprised me. Like how he tells me he’s an observer of life. He takes in everything around him and watches carefully, silently processing. And he thinks that I’m like him in that way too. Talk about being astute! I should have explained that being observant comes with the job description of a writer.
He proudly shares that his insights are often spot-on, especially when it comes to his friends and teachers in school. Not to mention relatives and family. And of course, says he with just a hint of a twinkle in his eye, his mom and I.
Talk about feeling exposed!
But it’s all good, and I’m guessing I’m not the only attentive parent that sees these grown-up changes in their teens.
So as I move into the new year, I thank God for these two silver linings that give me hope my journey as a parent of teens might be more fulfilling than the earlier years when they were still toddlers and tweens.
It’s also the right moment to cap what’s been yet another phenomenal year in my blogging career.
Time to take a break from blogging, put down the quill for a bit, and spend quality time with my sons, including Mr. Cool/Astute!
Thank you readers for staying with me all this while. Have a blessed yuletide season, one in which I hope you’ll be refreshed, recharged, and reinvigorated with the true meaning of this time of year.
Which is what I hope for me and my family too.
See you in 2023!!