My husband and I have been married for almost 22 years. In this time we have known great highs and devastating lows. We have known times of peace and times of anxiety and tension. I think, by far, the greatest time of tension that we have experienced as a couple have been the past few years parenting our now 17 year old daughter.
Parenting an older adolescent is a whole different universe than parenting an infant, or toddler or young child. The issues then are very much centered around physical safety: baby-proofing, making sure they don’t run out in the street, or wander away from you at the mall. Parenting an older teenager is about safety too, but the game is utterly different. Instead of baby-proofing, you wonder if the group they’re with will be drinking or doing drugs. Instead of keeping them from running in the street, you’re praying they don’t get an accident while they’re out with the car. Instead of wandering away in a crowd, you’re terrified they (or someone they’re with) will do something incredibly stupid or dangerous (or both).
And instead of tucking them in at night, you’re worried about them picking the kind of major in college that will enable them to get a decent job. Instead of tucking them in at night, you’re trying to prepare them to be without you. To fly solo. It’s about finding the balance between holding on too tight so that they’re unprepared, and letting go too quickly or at the “wrong” time so they crash.
I’m spending a lot of time feeling afraid. But I think I’m coping better than my husband, who is just plain terrified. Because of my childhood, I tend to err on the side of freedom, while he errs on the side of control. As a result, we’ve had some pretty interesting disagreements and discussions over the past year or so. As I said, there are times when the tension is THICK – times when I think he’s suffocating her, and he thinks I’m irresponsible.
I never expected to be fighting over differing parenting styles. It’s been a bit of a shock and very disconcerting. And of course the “truth,” the “right” way to go, is somewhere in between. But there’s no formula for figuring out where that happy middle is. It all feels like such a roll of the dice – which only adds to my fear and his terror.
I find myself sometimes wishing I didn’t have to co-parent. It would be so much easier if I didn’t need to consult my husband or compromise or admit when I’m wrong. But I know that’s just fantasizing to relieve the tension. I know single parents. And I know single parenting has its own tensions and fears and is HARD. I knew parenting would be hard, but I had no idea HOW hard, and no idea the toll it could take on a relationship. When divorce statistics are thrown around, you always hear about money being a source of stress, but I wonder how much having an adolescent figures into divorce rates? Not that we’re going that route BELIEVE ME – I LOVE my husband, and like I said, my fantasy of being a solo parent is just that – a fantasy to escape the hard work of dialogue, understanding, and compromise. “Opposites attract” sounds nice, but the reality of it can be… complicated.
I never thought about parenting styles when I had children. And I guess you cannot possibly know what kind of parent you will be to your adolescents until you get there. It’s not something I think people generally talk about when they’re falling in love and think about having children together. I know my husband and I certainly didn’t talk about how we would handle our hypothetical teenage daughter wanting to drive an hour to a hypothetical concert with her friends. And I know that how I act in the reality is often different than I ever imagined it.
My daughter has been in therapy since the spring, and I think her therapist is excellent. One of the reasons I feel this way is because she’s spending time with all three of us: my daughter alone, my daughter and I, my daughter and my husband, and my husband and myself. She’s guiding us through some of our confusion and fear and tension in parenting. I don’t think we’ll be able to work our fears away (I don’t think that’s possible for anyone who takes parenting seriously), but hopefully we’ll cope with them a little better, and also be able to work through some of the tension in our parenting styles. Less tension between the two of us around the last years our daughter is home would be a good thing.
Anyone else out there go through this?