This week, I had the privilege of going to lunch with my 20-year-old son, AJ. He is moving to Oregon next week and will not be around like he has his entire life.
It made me soberly reflect on our relationship and my deep love for him.
I do not know about you and your kids, but mine could be a tad self-centered while they brooded through the teen years.
My teens, on occasion, saw me as the giving tree – cash, cars, vacations, cell phones, food, etc., and for me, it was totally OK. The fact that they needed me was exactly the hook I craved (and still need) to stay connected and involved in their lives. Yet, there was a definite pulling away as my children hit the teen years.
I would occasionally worry that this pulling away and seeking some independence was somehow an indictment on my parenting style or marital situation. As my children hit their mid-teens, their friends became a huge part of their universe. They did not necessarily care about Dad time, Mom time or family time; they were preoccupied with their own time.
Their entire life centered on their friends, a priority with which I had to continually remind myself, as I saw them less and less.
However, I found that if I just stayed involved, I could build and sustain trust, love and a relationship while simultaneously encouraging teenage independence.
While having lunch with AJ this week, my mind flashed back to an experience I will always treasure.
It was about three years ago on a Friday evening, about 5:30 p.m. I was in my office, wrapping up for the day. As I was getting ready to leave, I got a text from my teenage AJ.
“I just got done with my chores early. Wanna go out?”
Now, let’s think about this for a few moments.
1. It is a Friday night.
2. This is coming from my 17-year-old.
3. He is asking me (or someone) to “go out?” Seems uncharacteristic of my teenage son.
So as I read it, I was fairly certain this text was not meant for me, his dad. It had to be a mistake. Surely, he meant to send this to one of his friends, perhaps his girlfriend.
I decided to play a little joke and teasingly sent a text right back. My reply? “Sure, I would love to. How about we go dancing?”
I wait and wait and wait. I can see that he read my text. I wonder why he is not responding. By now, he must have figured out that he inadvertently sent me that text. I muse, he is probably laughing and trying to come up with a clever retort.
I hear nothing.
About five minutes later, my eldest daughter calls me and says in a very confused, kind of solemn voice, “Daaaaad…. why do you want to go out dancing with AJ?”
I say “what are you talking about?” Now I am the one that is confused.
She says, “AJ just called me and is freaking out because he says you want to go out dancing with him.”
I say “oooohhhh, you mean the text he accidentally sent me, that was meant for one of his friends or girlfriend?”
I start to dive into my explanation of my ribbing response when Kelly interrupts me and says, “Nooo, Dad. AJ sent it to YOU… he wants to go out with YOU… not his friends or his girlfriend.”
I chuckle thinking about what must have been going through AJ’s head when he got my reply. “What the heck is Dad talking about? DANCING… with Dad…gross?? The old man has absolutely lost it.”
But then I felt a warm glow in my heart that my 17-year-old son wanted to go out with his dad and siblings on a Friday night. We went bowling, had a blast and then went out for pizza.
No silver-back gorilla had a better pride. I love this crew.
I am no Steven Pinker, Brene Brown or Paul Jenkins, but I am a father of four who has done a few things right and many wrong and these are my opinions:
Parents (especially single parents), do not focus on the loss of time with your teens as they pull away. Build bridges of trust, interest in common activities and love and foster a strong relationship early in their lives. Attempting to kick in at the last minute and be the “parent” only when the relationship with your teen is strained from early neglect is a very steep mountain to climb.
Again, ditch the idea you are losing their time, interest and affection and instead spotlight your energy on maintaining a nurturing, positive, solid relationship. Think long-term… the teen years are merely a stepping stone. Make sure those stones have a strong, loving foundation so the relationship endures far into the future.
Establish good communication and an interest in being together, celebrating life’s ups and downs, traditions and holidays.
As my kids grow older, move out and make lives of their own, I pray I have invested early and often enough in the relationship that they continue.
You see, I, one day, hope to get a text from my grandson saying:
“I just got done with my chores early. Wanna go out?”Tags: AJ Coombs, Art Coombs, bowling, Brene Brown, children, dads, dancing, Don't Just Manage -- LEAD!, family, fatherhood, fathers, holidays, kids, lunch, Oregon, parenthood, parents, Paul Jenkins, pizza, son, Steven Pinker, teenage children, teenagers, texting, traditions, ups and downs
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This post was written by Art