By Guest Blogger Ellen Bryant Lloyd
Several weeks ago, my son, a high school junior, walked into the kitchen while I was preparing dinner and said, “Mom, I need your help. You’re really creative. I need to make a submarine for part of a project for my TOK class (Theory of Knowledge), and I have no idea where to start. Do you have any ideas? It’s due tomorrow.”
I pushed back my first inclination to ask him why he waited until the night before to start thinking about this project, and instead opted to take the compliment and consider how I might be able to help him. As is the case with many teenagers, he rarely asks for my input on things. He is independent and self-sufficient, and takes pride in “handling his life” as he puts it — all things a parent wants for their child, but sometimes hard to accept as it means they are no longer little and don’t need us in the same way. And, if you are like me, the younger years feel like they went by way too fast.
“A submarine? Do you have to do a report on submarines?” I asked.
“No, I am analyzing a John Mayer song,’Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967,’ and I want to make a submarine for a visual aid.”
My interest was piqued, but instead of asking more about the project, I opened the refrigerator and pulled out a can of biscuits.
“Why don’t you make your submarine out of this?” I said as I handed him the can of biscuits.
He looked at me and then the biscuits with a puzzled look, which I expected. “You could form the biscuit dough into the shape of a submarine and bake it, then you could paint it and glue it on your board,” I explained.
“How in the world do you come up with ideas like that? And so fast?”
I smiled and took that as another compliment.
Even though my son has never enjoyed crafty projects and would not consider himself artistic in the least, he embraced the idea of using the biscuits to make the submarine, and throughout the rest of the evening, he proceeded to shape, bake, and paint his biscuit submarine. The fun part for me was watching him ramble around the kitchen and art supply cabinet, asking his sister and me if it was looking like a submarine as he formed the dough, and answering a few questions about baking his creation. After the submarine baked, he continued to solicit my opinion as he painted, added additional details to his submarine and worked on the other parts of the project. During the time he worked on the submarine, he also brought up a variety of topics for discussion. We laughed, shared a few stories and enjoyed genuine bonding time.
Parenting teenagers looks very different than parenting younger children. Teenagers crave their independence and privacy. They gravitate to their friends and work hard to pull away from their parents as they strive to figure out their own identity. This is a normal part of growing up, but it can sometimes be hard to take as a parent.
I know that teenagers do like to engage with their parents, just on their own terms and when it suits them. I try hard to recognize these windows of opportunity with my children and stop what I am doing so I can be present with them, whether it is for thirty seconds or thirty minutes. Teenagers definitely have a lot of stress in their lives. Schoolwork and social pressures, as well as thoughts and expectations for the future weigh on their minds, not to mention the fact that they have to deal with a brain that is still developing. It really is a lot for them to manage. So, when an opportunity to connect and be there for them arises, I want to be ready, whenever and however they need me to be.
When I walked into the kitchen the next morning to turn on the coffee pot, I noticed the biscuit submarine project on our kitchen table. I felt a wave of emotion as I remembered our evening together, and knew that I would always be grateful that I took the time to engage with him. Who knew you could bond with a teenager over a can of biscuits? I do now. 🙂
Ellen Bryant Lloyd is the author of FRECKLES and FRECKLES and The Great Beach Rescue. Please visit www.funwithfreckles.com and www.facebook.com/funwithfreckles to learn more about Freckles. Ellen writes a blog about her perspectives on life and parenting at www.mindfulmom.wordpress.com and tweets at @EllenBLloyd. She lives in Greensboro with her husband and two children.