No amount of parenting books, blogs or mom groups could ever prepare me for handling teenagers, let alone teenagers in love.
Now, because I have a big family, I get to do this whole “teenager first love fallout” thing a whopping seven times. However, just because I have four teens now doesn’t make me an expert—because they are all so damn different. So how do I do it?
The first thing I am constantly reminding myself of is that there is no one-size-fits-all response to heartbreak.
The last thing I want to do is sound like I’m regurgitating something from a parenting book. My kids are too real to buy into any kind of textbook response, so I have to tailor my responses to each kid’s personality. Whereas oodles of chocolate and a shopping spree works for one kid, and goofy jokes until I can get a laugh works for another–still someone else may need to shed tears and be left alone. Especially when it comes to the hard knocks of love.
A few months ago, my 14 year old Milla (teenager #4 in the age lineup), announced that she had a girlfriend. Then, she asked how old she had to be to fly to Texas by herself. Texas? Well it turns out she had met this new girlfriend on social media. Of course there is so much to respond to in one sentence, not the least of which was the idea that she met someone on the internet and how did that happen without my having any idea? Second, how was she going to sustain this long distance relationship since she was definitely not old enough to travel and meet this other 14 year old girl by herself? And third, was this Milla’s coming out party?
After I confirmed this Texas teen really wasn’t a creepy old man, I tried my best to learn about their relationship without judgement. They had art in common, and YouTube accounts where they made animated cartoons of each other as animals. They had also started a Podcast, and it was pretty cute. Milla was flat-out head over heels for this kid. She spoke freely about her, had a hop in her step and color in her cheeks. Her grades improved, her art improved, her overall mood improved.
Ultimately, I watched as the next several months unfolded into pure love—knowing that it would end painfully for one of them. Sadly one day, the girl broke up with her in the modern way: Via text, saying she was too busy.
Milla was devastated. She was shocked and bawled in front of me. I wanted to tell her not to cry or worry about it—that there were plenty of fish in the sea. But I didn’t, because it all seemed so canned. And invalidating.
Breakups suck, whether you are a kid or an adult and whether it is your first or your 10th.
So instead I listened to her tell me all about how she wanted to quit everything—school, art, life! And when I was sure she was finished I spoke to her about what it meant to recenter yourself after a loss like this. And about not devaluing everything about ourselves just because someone else has. I said to hang onto who she is and keep figuring it out. I did throw in the usual “Time will heal everything” but only because it’s true. The farther away we get from our pain on a timeline, the easier it is to move on with things.
But even though I did my best to customize a heartfelt response, I still learned something on the spot. It was how to honor difference. She knows she is different from the rest of our family – and not because of her gender choices. She’s extremely self-expressed for a kid. She feels and she feels deeply. She is an introvert, and completely comfortable with it, often going off by herself when everyone is noisy and competing for airtime. It’s my jobs to reinforce that as something positive, which is a challenge when I am such an avowed extrovert. When you are this emotionally charged, there is no—C’mon girl, pick yourself up and carry on, or save your tears. For Milla, the answer is: cry it all out, sit with your sunken heart as long as you need to, I’m here when you need me.
These years are difficult.
I know that as a mom, I want to keep having an impact on them. It’s hard to deal with teenage awkwardness. They always act like they want to be alone, but really I think they are just trying to find space to become who they are—and it doesn’t mean there isn’t still room for me. So, my motto is just stay in the game. Even though they are saying leave me be, doesn’t mean we go away. It means we lean even more into the turbulence, so they know we are there and will pick up the pieces, not for them—but along side them. From the first heartache to the last.
Your lovesick sidekick,
So Called Mom