Dear mom and dad, this is the artist formerly known as your angry teen.
Years from now, I’ll be shopping at Walgreens and stop dead in my tracks, tears just held at bay, at the sound of Billy Joel’s voice singing these words:
“I don’t need you to worry for me ’cause I’m alright. I don’t need you to tell me it’s time to come home. I don’t care what you say anymore. This is MY LIFE. Go ahead with your own life– leave me alone.”
You see, I used to blast this song in my mind or in my car in outright defiance and strong-willed arrogance aimed directly at you. I know you’re not surprised.
I will weep over my attitude, the times we fought, the things I said that I didn’t mean. I’ll sob over the fact that you gave me your best while I assumed the worst about you. And I will cry for the days that you reached out to comfort me and I pushed you away. I’ll shed tears over the grace you gave me . . . grace to be human and make mistakes. Grace that I refused to give you.
“We used to be real close.”
In truth, I do love you guys. Very much. More than anyone. You know me better than anyone. We’ve shared all of life’s ups and downs with the utmost transparency, laughed over family jokes, and snuggled as you tucked me into bed. I do long for those simple, carefree days of being “just a kid.”
But right now, I am consumed with worry. I worry that I don’t measure up in the social scene. Maybe I won’t do well enough academically. What if I won’t actually have the courage to make something of myself? And I’m worried that if I tell you these things, you’ll just feel obligated to say nice things back to me that you don’t really believe yourself. So I don’t tell you.
“You can speak your mind, but not on my time.”
I’m afraid of letting you down, but even more afraid of being rejected by my peers. You, after all, won’t purposely seek to ruin me. They will. You won’t leave me all alone to fend for myself. In a heartbeat, they will. I don’t have to earn your approval, but I’m in constant peril of losing theirs. I feel like I have to dress for them, talk for them, perform for them so that they will see me in a positive light. Wrongly, I assume that you won’t understand this pressure I’m under. I’m afraid you’ll say things like, “What do you need them for? You have us!” So I don’t tell you.
I don’t talk in the car or at dinner anymore. I’m consumed with thoughts of managing my school/work social life. I obsess over what someone said today, what I said back, what I heard someone else say they think someone else said about me, where my position is on the social ladder, and how to climb it. Again, I wrongly assume that if I tell you what I’m thinking, you’ll minimize what I’m going through. You’ve got bills to pay, a job to keep, and mouths to feed, after all. I assume that my problems will seem petty to you. So I don’t talk.
“Closed the shop, sold the house, bought a ticket to the west coast.”
I’m doing things that don’t align with who I’ve always been. I’m hanging out with the wrong crowd and dating the wrong guy. The misalignment in my life feels very uncomfortable to me. I am well aware that I shouldn’t be doing these things. But right now, I’m feeling like that thing I want so badly . . . acceptance from my peers . . . well, I’ve sort of got it. For now. So I don’t sleep, I have anxiety, and I have a hard time eating because my stomach is in knots. I know you see it, and it breaks my heart the I’m creating distance between us with my actions. I know that, on some level, I’m hurting you too. But I can’t face this. So I don’t talk.
“I still belong. Don’t get me wrong.”
Please keep reaching for me. Keep cracking jokes. Continue inviting me to the movies, out shopping, or just to watch TV with you. Please keep trying to talk to me. Though I may say no sometimes, I desperately want the relief that these normal, happy, stress-free activities with you bring.
Years down the road, I won’t ever forget the time that I was being an absolute jerk, consumed with too much homework and my own brand of stress, and you brought cookies and milk into my room. I won’t forget the time that I was spewing sarcasm, anger, and negativity and you moved towards me. You could have walked away, leaving me to my chosen misery. Instead, you helped me to admit that I was crumbling under the perceived pressure of having to figure out my entire life at 18 years old.
Please keep reminding me that I’ll always belong and be accepted here, in our family.
“I don’t need you to worry for me ’cause I’m alright.”
I need your concern and guidance because my brain is not fully developed. And I need you to give me consequences when I step out of line. I need boundaries, and I need to know that you care enough about me to prevent me from destroying myself. Thank you for giving me the security that comes with parents who worry for me. I know it’s not easy. Someday, when I have my own kids, I’ll understand.
“I don’t need you to tell me it’s time to come home.”
Again, false. See previous paragraph. Also, as an adult, I’ll realize you were right. Nothing good happens after 11:00 p.m.
“I don’t care what you say anymore.”
False, false, false.
Despite my apparent deafness or disrespect, I’m hanging onto your every word. Your encouragement to be strong, to be courageous, to be upright, to be compassionate, to problem-solve . . . it will become my inside voice when I face problems as an adult. When you have to get after me, you solidify the values that will carry me through adulthood and help guide my choices. I care. I REALLY do. Please keep talking.
“This is MY life.”
That’s what scares me so much. I don’t believe in my own ability to make good decisions, though my actions scream otherwise. I’m well aware of my lack of wisdom, experience, and general knowledge about how the world works. Having my own life feels like being handed a very fragile object. What if I mess it all up? I just need your reassurance of the things I can’t lose, including your love and care. I’m sorry that my internal fear manifests itself in moodiness, anger, and fights over minuscule things. Please reassure me that I can do this, that I can handle having a “life” of my own.
“Go ahead with your own life. Leave me alone.”
Thank you for not doing this. I’m so grateful for every ounce of energy you’ve poured into caring for, providing for, worrying over, disciplining, and loving me. Thank you for not giving up on me, for fighting for me– even when I am my own worst enemy. I’m grateful for your refusal to lose me to the relentless demands of the high school social scene. Thank you for believing in me, pursuing me, and pulling me close as I wailed and flailed. You’re teaching me that I’m worthy of time, attention, and love. You’re showing me that I have a purpose in this world and giving me the courage to go out and fulfill it.
I won’t say it now, but I’ll never be able to thank you for sticking with me through it all. You’ve done so much to make this life that I call “my own” possible. Years from now, as I stroll through that Walgreens, I’ll say a prayer of thanks for all you did, all you endured, all you sacrificed, and all you poured out . . . for my life.
A parent’s life truly is not their own from the moment their little one begins to breathe. It is the ultimate act of love to sacrifice for another. For all the parents out there enduring the growing pains that feel like labor pangs all over again, take heart. All your effort is giving your teen life, all over again. And someday, you will receive that phone call, text, card, or email . . .
From the artist formerly known as your angry teen.
P.S. If you want to read from another parent about us teens, click here. Y’all should stick together. For real.