Reconnecting with your Teenagers

The week or so before the holidays was hell on wheels at my house. The task of raising two teenagers as a single Mom and all its attendant responsibilities creates a good deal of tension within our four walls. Any parent of a teen will understand. Too often I get the feeling that my life with them is nothing but nagging, cajoling and getting them to do the things they need to do to be responsible adults, not to mention making it through their days with everything handled. A blowup with my son over infractions against house rules caused him to say he wanted to move out. How to get back in touch?

Time with their Dad is more fun and games. He is active in their lives and adores his kids but truth be told, it is Mom who has the day-to-day responsibility of their lives. As a divorced Mom, I am the housekeeper, the chauffeur, the computer consultant, the cook, the laundress, the working Mom, the secretary, the caregiver, the tutor and the disciplinarian just to mention some of the hats I wear on a daily basis. Sometimes I feel like the invisible third wheel. I rarely have the chance to just enjoy them. So I made a decision.

Over the December holidays I planned a trip to Costa Rica. Now teenagers do not like to go on vacation with their parents. They want to take a friend along because God forbid they have to spend too much time with you! But traveling to Costa Rica with friends was not in the budget or the game plan. I wanted us together with no distractions: no chores or errands or homework or computers or television. Just downtime together. Plus adventure. No fancy resorts like Atlantis for this Madre.

The magic began the minute we left. I think to my kid’s credit, they knew that the trip meant a great deal to me so they were on their best behavior. Our first day in Costa Rica was sightseeing in the capital of San Jose. That evening we had dinner at an upscale restaurant at our hotel. The three of us dined, really dined, for about two hours. We talked, laughed and ate a fantastic dinner. It was sheer joy for someone who had felt like Commandant Klink for too long.

Towards the end of the dinner, my thirteen-year-old daughter climbed into my lap to snuggle. After about ten minutes she moved into her seventeen year old brother’s lap and he actually permitted her the opportunity! Enough to bring tears to my eyes. Remember, this is a teenage boy. Demonstrative attention in public from a Mother or a little sister is basically verboten. Miracles were already happening and we had just arrived.

The only responsibility I had (outside of their safety) on this trip was to enjoy my kids, period. I had arranged through a phenomenal tour company based in Costa Rica to have all our needs met beforehand. I didn’t have to worry about transportation. Drivers met us at the airports and took us to our hotels. Guides were on hand without my having to call anyone to take us around to all the sites and give us in detail information about our various outings. Our days were all pre-planned and chocked full of adventure. We even had a guide who traveled with us for four days. There was very little to divert my attention from Jake and Sylvie.

We had many adventures: outrigger canoes in the Pacific, deep sea fishing, snorkeling, zip lining through the rain forest, hiking, natural thermal springs and white water river rafting. Nature, the great attraction of Costa Rica, and its splendor was breath-taking for all of us. We had much to be amazed at and appreciate together: whales, iguanas, flying stingrays, lizards, exotic birds, tropical rain forest mammals, butterflies, monkeys and rain-forest frogs. Sharing these wonders was what bonding is all about.

My son will be off to college next year and as a senior in high school, outside of meals, it seems we never see or really talk to each other. Not so in Costa Rica. There was many a night when just the two of us (his sister was in bed) sat around and talked. I learned he really missed his girlfriend. I heard stories of his escapades with his buddies. We talked about the divorce. We talked.

During our ten days away, I would often find myself just staring at their faces in awe. That was a very different feeling from wanting to strangle them at home! How did I come to be the Mother of these two beautiful young adults? They are gregarious, intelligent, engaging and loving kids. I can hardly remember them as babies. They have grown too fast (as we were all warned) and will soon fly the nest. The time we had together was simply too precious.

I resolved to find other ways to be together without life’s daily and mundane distractions. It isn’t easy getting a teen to spend time with you. They would rather be with their friends. But what I learned in Costa Rica was time with them in a setting that is conducive works and is incredibly satisfying.

We don’t want to insist that our kids spend time with us, we want them to want to on their own. But teens are far too preoccupied with themselves to do that. Self-absorption is part of the teen years. A big part! Just as we must lay down the law as to their responsibilities and their behavior, so too must we ask that they make time for us; just not too often.

If you can’t afford to get away to Costa Rica you can always come up with other ways to be with your teens. Finding things to do together that hold their interest is a start and something new and really different works well. Pre-planning so they can adjust their schedules is a must. Even a special dinner can be a small trip to intimacy. Have them clear their schedule for a whole hour to just eat and talk;not the usual ten-minute dinner you slaved over for two hours!

My ten days with my children in Costa Rica was one of the most fulfilling things I have done. I reconnected and got to know them again. I took off all the hats I must wear everyday and only wore a sun visor. I was Mom the adventurer versus Mon the pest. I was a wonderful dinner companion not the insulted chef. I was the woman who belly-laughed versus the woman who hadn’t seemed to crack a grin around them in too long. At home I complained that I was the woman who seemed to constantly nagging and directing my kids and it was tiring and depressing. I wanted them to see the real, authentic me; someone I needed to re-connect with in a big way. I did that in Costa Rica. I was the woman who opened up the world for them in new and astounding ways. Super-Mom. Perfecto!

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