It’s 9:30pm. I am sitting alone in my house. It’s very quiet if you ignore the cat that is writhing around at my feet, meowing what I believe to be cat for, “My bowl has been empty for five minutes. I am now starving to death in front of your very eyes.” A couple of years ago, it would have been a very different scene. The cat would have been the same, but the house would have been anything but empty. I would have been trying desperately to herd people in the general direction of their beds. There would be baths to give, teeth to brush, dinner dishes to do, games and toys to clean up, and most noticeably, in addition to a cat, there would have been a child writhing around at my feet, crying what I believe to be kid for, “We are out of ice cream. You clearly do not love us.”
But tonight, it’s just me. I am alone because one child is at a sleepover. Another is off babysitting. The third is out. Out where, you ask? I would love to answer, but apparently the phone I pay for every month has a built-in “mom block” that prevents her from texting me her whereabouts. This usually results in me assuming that she is being held captive and/or in prison. I will let you know the outcome at curfew.
As my kids get older, I find myself alone more and more often. Not alone in the sense of productive alone time where I do things like take long, hot baths and read books from the ever growing pile by my bed, but alone in the car pick up line. Alone at the grocery store buying snacks for the latest invasion of teenagers. Alone in the living room watching the show we used to all watch together, because now, everyone would rather go hang out in their room doing whatever it is that they do in there for hours. I make dinners that no one is home to eat thanks to last minute plans or practices or rehearsals. I sit in doctor’s waiting rooms. I sit in the hall at back-to-school nights. I hang out alone on a Friday night because one kid has a sleepover going on in the basement, another is at a friend’s house and the third fell asleep an hour into the movie we were watching, assuming she is home on a Friday night in the first place. And I’ll be honest, it gets lonely.
When my house was full of raging, anarchist toddlers, it was physical and exhausting, yes. But never lonely. I made connections through my kids, because toddlers can be jerks, to be certain, but they’re not picky about who they play with most of the time. And so, while waiting to pick kids up from dance class or daycare or preschool, I met other parents in the hallways and set up play dates. I went to play groups and playgrounds and found some of my dearest life long friends. We would meet up at one another’s houses. We would gather at the park for impromptu outings. We would have weekend cookouts while the kids ran free-range.
But as kids get older, I feel that many of us parents retreat in to a different world. Most of us have gone back to work, or those of us who always worked have become more involved in our professional lives. The kids now have swim meets every weekend or volleyball tournaments out of town. And long gone are the days of gathering for cookouts with free-range kids, because these days, the kids pick their own friends and make their own plans.
When we have younger kids, we get frustrated by so many things and think, “It will all be better once they’re older.” We think about how nice it will be to have people in our house who can drive themselves places, people who don’t have tantrums every time air molecules in the room shift, or, at the very least, people who can use the bathroom unassisted. We think about how, once the kids are older, we’ll finally have time to do things for ourselves. We’ll go out with friends more. We’ll have more time to do “adult” things. We’ll be able to sleep in on a Saturday.
And many of these things are true. But it comes at a cost. Sure, there’s less to do in terms of the constant neediness of the early years. But you don’t get to be less vigilant. In fact, as kids get older, the risks get bigger, the stakes grow larger and the need to be involved increases in ways that are less tangible, but no less important. And ironically, as our kids start going out more, and consequently spending less time with us, that’s the time we actually need to be more focused than ever on what’s happening at home.
The parenting world is packed full of advice for life with toddlers. Cry about life with a three-year old and the world cries with you. And if you need a laugh, advice, or simply a sense that you’re not alone, all you have to do is log on to Facebook or hit up your favorite blog and you’ll be bombarded with article after article of real moms raising real kids. They’ll talk about their successes and failures. There will be relatable memes and hilarious anecdotes. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and at the end of it all, you’ll remember that you’re not alone.
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of resources for dealing with life in the teen years. There are more than enough books, articles and scientific studies. They tell us how to make our teens smarter, healthier and happier. They teach us how to make them more self-confident, less narcissistic, more successful, less rebellious, and so on.
But what is missing is the real companionship. Even in the blogosphere, while there are hilarious, heartfelt, serious or sentimental articles going viral about the woes and tribulations of raising kids, somehow the teenage years are much less represented. Perhaps it’s because the “woes and tribulations” aren’t quite as funny anymore. Perhaps it’s because we’re protecting our children’s privacy. Or maybe it’s just that we’re too exhausted to interact with the outside world after one more night of sitting alone in the living room staring at the front door until it’s finally curfew and we can confirm that no one is being held captive and/or in prison.
Likewise, we no longer meet up before and after dance class. We don’t go to the park. We don’t chat in the halls of the school, because our kids don’t have classes together any way. We accept the rain check for a get-together, because we know all too well what soccer tournaments can do to the social calendar. We chat occasionally, on the way home from work or in the car pick up line. We say we’ll see each other when we can. But often, it’s hard to remember that we are not alone.
And so, to all your parents out there feeling isolated in the teenage years, I don’t offer answers or solutions. I simply offer companionship. I offer you the comfort of knowing that you are not alone. I want you to know that you are not forgotten, nor are your efforts unappreciated. The time will come again when you can sleep before curfew or go away for a weekend without worrying that you’ll return home to a scene from Animal House. You’ll reconnect with friends and even make new ones who are, like you, reveling in their newfound freedom. But for now, on those days that you feel lonely, just remember that it’s because you’re doing exactly what you need to do at this moment – and like all the other moments that have brought you to this place, you’ll look back one day and wonder how it passed so quickly.