When children hit their teens, they don’t want to be seen with their parents. And that means less time for bonding
LIKE many fathers who seize opportunities available to spend time with their children, I am my kids’ taxi driver as well as their father. A typical phone call from any one of my children – especially on my day off – Dad, could you pick me up from this place NOW?
But once, when I knew I was not going to be able to get out for my dinner break on time to pick my youngest son Marcus, who was 13 then, after his exhausting rugby training, I called my wife. She doesn’t drive, but I thought she could keep him company on the journey home – two buses and 30-minute or so ride home. An opportunity to bond with the child.
But when she went down to the pitch and was about 20metres or so from the shed where the boys sat after training, she saw Marcus bolt. From inside the changing room, he called her on her mobile: ‘What are you doing here, Mum? Can you go away?’, he added without waiting for her to respond to his first question.
She explained that I would be late and she decided to accompany him home. “I will wait for you at the carpark,’ she told him. He said: ‘No. Wait for me at the bus stop.’
Later that day, Marcus complained to me: ‘Mum thinks I am a baby who needs to be escorted when I take a bus.’ I explained that it was my idea. But I knew what he was trying to tell me. It was not cool to be seen with your Mum, especially when you are a rugby player.
Having two other teenage children who were 17 and 15 years old then, one would have thought I would be familiar with many of these teenage traits. I might have been but I think what caught me off-guard was how, overnight, Marcus started to display these traits.
Over the last three years or so, this son of mine was the only remaining one to continue to tag along with me whether I went down to the hawker centre to buy dinner home or to church to pick up his siblings after the Sunday afternoon youth activities. Suddenly, he, too, had stopped.
I realised that with him, too, I now would have to put up with some of the teen traits that the two older ones displayed.
“Don’t dress like a construction worker, please, Dad,” was a constant plea of my daughter. “No need to dress like a male model, just be presentable, Dad.”
I’ve to make myself scarce when they have friends over. Just say hello (if I really need to), stock up on the drinks and chips and vamoose.
I saw my son squirm when I once plonked myself at the dining table with his friends. I asked each of them to introduce themselves and tell me what musical instrument they played, just before the group left for one of their jam sessions. Occasionally I feel it is good to remind the kids who the owner of the house they are having so much fun in, is.
I once asked my kids why they did not want us parents around.
‘Because – we are quite different when we are with our friends,’ Natasha said. ‘Which is the real you?’ I asked. ‘No, we are just different. All my friends are when their parents are not around,” she added. And it is true. Shaun, for example, is not as sober when he is with his friends, I have noticed.
But it is not only that they behave different. At this stage or their lives, they become more self-centred. It is just they, their friends and their interests. Anything beyond that and they are clueless. Parents take a back seat.
Much of their teen demands also boil down to wanting more personal space which inevitably means less time with parents which means fewer opportunities to advise and influence them. In casual chats with other parents, I found this a major concern. The kids are at the stage when they want to have as little to do with their parents as possible, hang out as much as possible with their friends and seek as little advice as possible from parents – the perfect recipe for disaster.
But I know of parents who try creative ways to get around this problem. Two of the fathers who help out in the rugby team Marcus is in are the official ‘water boys’. One of them said it allowed him to stay in the background while still keeping in touch with his son and his friends. What a wonderful example of a father this guy was, I thought.
I try and get my children to bring their friends home. With the schools of all three of them nearby, this becomes easier. It allows me or my wife to get to know the other kids they hang out with.
Sometimes I find I have to remind myself that my son, one of whom was already a few centimeters taller than me, was still just a young boy. That despite his 1.8m frame, his remarks, comments and responses all showed that he needed guidance and good advice.
All three of them were in their teens then but still indicated to my wife and me that they definitely wanted us around, but at a distance.
It is like Marcus, I guess, who did not mind his mother waiting for him, but at a distance – at the bus-stop. And I am sure that so long as his friends did not spot Mummy with him, he clearly would enjoy having her for company on the way home.
About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network (FAN).
First published on 31-01-2012.