Mother Nature is amazing. She does everything for a reason. Makes lizard tails with quick-release switches to distract predators while the reptiles make their run for it, carnivorous Venus Fly Traps that eat flies because they’re too good for regular dirt nutrients, and sharks that have an unending supply of teeth because, as everyone knows, sharks never brush.
Mom Nature knows what She’s doing. That’s why I was at first confused when my little angel, Riley, turned thirteen. She’s sixteen now, and for the last three years I’ve been trying to figure this all out.
See, my teen (as you may have experienced if you’ve got one living at your home, as well) loves to talk, text, chat and FaceTime anyone in the world that she knows, as long as it’s not me or her mom. When we talk to the girl she tries to be polite. I can see the effort, but it’s just too hard for her to completely hide her frustration with actually having a conversation with the people who raised her, changed her diaper, and will have to mortgage their home to fund her an education that will get her a minimum wage job when she’s in her mid-twenties.
Riley only initiates a conversation when it will benefit her, if something is wrong, or if it’s one of our birthdays (and only then it’s “Happy Birthday…What’s for breakfast?”). When we talk with our teen she will look up from her phone (which somehow has permanently attached itself to her hand) as if that proves she’s listening, only to look back at it and say, “I’m listening.” Then, she’ll raise her eyebrows and lift her chin to give the appearance of looking up again, but her eyes remain transfixed to her new appendage.
And, if we ask a question, she’ll respond either with a grunt, a nod, a monosyllabic answer, or a “Huh? What did you say?” But, there’s a reason for this. Mother Nature has worked it all out.
I don’t see my teen very much. When Riley isn’t at school, she’s either hanging out with her friends, sleeping at one of their houses, or hold-up in her room listening to music or watching YouTube videos. It’s like living with a roommate with whom you’re cordial, but rarely spend any time with. I spot Riley every now and again in the hallway and say things like, “Wow, looks like you’ve grown a couple inches since last I saw you,” or, “So what grade are you in now?”
And even if she did want to connect with us, Mother Nature has thrown a wrench into everyone’s sleep patterns. Studies show that teens tend to need to stay up two hours on average later than they did when they were younger, which means they sleep later. That’s why you get teens waking up at noon on weekends.
On the other hand, the older we parents become, the closer we’re getting to making our bedtime 7:30pm, waking at 5am and eating the 4pm Early Bird Special at the local buffet, which means that I don’t see my teen because she’s nocturnal and my wife and I are diurnal.
There was a time my girl wanted to spend time with me. She wanted to tell me her thoughts and share her day. But, now as a teen, those have become mere memories.
Oh, but I’m not asking you to shed a tear for me. I get it. I understand that this is only temporary. After Riley gets through this stage and goes out on her own, she’ll want to call, to talk, to visit, and actually spend time with her parents once again.
Then, why these years of darkness between the light of childhood and adulthood? Why does Mother Nature make it so our children pull away from us while they’re teens? Some kind of cruel joke? Is this the payment we get for all the years of dedication we’ve invested in our children? And, the answer is “yes.” It’s Mother Nature’s last gift to us as parents.
She knows that soon our children will be leaving the nest. Mother Nature knows all too well that we’ll be seeing our children and speaking with them less often. So, She’s making the transition gradual. Instead of plunging head first into the icy cold lake of empty-nesting with a kid who wanted to spend every waking moment with us, She sticks us in a warm tub and let’s the water cool slowly around us on its own, so when it turns frigid, it won’t be such a shock to our systems.
The beauty of the teen years is that Mother Nature does this while we still have our children at home. So, Riley doesn’t communicate much, but I can still see her (the two hours between when she awakens and I go down for the evening). Maybe she’s in her room or at her friends’ homes, but it feels good knowing she’s not far.
Some might say Mother Nature is cruel for taking our teens away from us slowly while they are still living under our roofs, but I appreciate her gift of preparing me for the day my girl heads off on her own.
It’ll make the transition easier, and it will make her return to us that much more wonderful.
Mother knows best!