Rebecca Frech is the author of Teaching in Your Tiara: A Homeschooling Book for the Rest of Us, co-host of the popular radio show/podcast The Visitation Project, Catholic speaker, and writes the award-winning blog Shoved to Them. She and her husband live just outside Dallas with their seven children and an ever-multiplying family of dust-bunnies. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at @shovedtothem.
There was a day, when my eldest was 13, that everything changed. The sweet and easygoing child we had gotten used to now eyed us with a more cynical gaze. She had discovered that we were human after all. It was a hard transition for all of us as she went from unquestioning child to a teenager with a point of view and an opinion.
There were many nights that I went to bed missing the sweet girl she had been when she was eight. She wasn't hard exactly, it just wasn't quite as easy to be her parent. We were beginning to head toward the path we had been warned would come. “Just wait until she's 13,” people would tell us, “everything changes then.” I had dismissed it as her thirteenth birthday came and went and she was still the same girl, but a few months later and I knew what they had been talking about.
It nearly broke my heart. This was my firstborn, the delight of my life. We had always been very close, closer than I was with her brothers, and the idea of losing that made me cry. I had no idea how to address the changes that were happening. I would get upset at her attitudes and she would have a smart mouth in reply. The more I tried to reel her in, the more she stubborn and obstinate she became. I couldn't imagine how this constant battling was ever going to turn into a relationship. I was so afraid of being nothing more than the annoying parent who called her and she rolled her eyes. What had happened to the little girl I loved?
I took her for a drive and asked her “Where do you see us in 15 years? What does this look like in your mind?” She was silent for a very long time, the she almost whispered “I want to be friends. I want to go shopping, and laugh. I want us to have fun together. I want to be able to ask your advice on anything and trust what you tell me. I want you to be my mom and my friend.” When she turned to look at me, I could see the tears in her eyes and I knew she had been missing me as much as I had missed her. Our frustrations had escalated and built on each other until they were a wall between us.
“How do we get there from here?” I asked.
“I don't know,” she replied.
We went home and took out a piece of paper and brainstormed. We came up with concrete things we each could do to work towards our new common goal. We really tried to stick to it that year. If one of us slipped up the other would chide “Really? You've decided to opt for bitter and angry? Okay.” Mostly it was me saying that, but she smiled the one time she got to say it to me.
We check back in on that list regularly. I'm still her mom and in charge, but we are moving determinedly toward something more. There have been the rough patches you'd expect with any relationship, but that's the thing... it's a relationship now. It's not just me bossing and her obeying or not obeying. It's a two-sided give-and-take with purpose and a goal in mind.
I don't know what took me so long. I check in regularly with my husband and friends. I tout the benefits of NFP emphasizing the blessing it is for the spousal relationship because it forces you to be honest with each other about where you are in your lives, and where you both want to be. I don't know why it never occurred to me before that I needed to have the same kind of discussion with my children.
Last week I took my now-13-year-old son for a drive and asked him the same question: “Where do you see us in 15 years? What does our relationship look like when you are 28?” So different from his sister's thoughtful insight, he crinkled his forehead and said “Why? What do you mean? I figured I'd be a priest nearby or married and living just a little bit away. I thought we'd still go to Mass and have Sunday dinner. I figured I could still drop by for lunch like once a week. Were you thinking something else?” Nope. That's pretty much what I want too. We then talked about how we were going to get there, because I plan to be so much more to them than just an annoyed eye roll when they see my name on their phones. I plan to be their mom for a long, long time.