Opinion: What is common between adolescence and middle age?5 min read . Updated: 11 Feb 2019, 01:19 PM IST
- Middle age is quite like adolescence
- Adolescents have parents who are themselves negotiating their middle years
Mamma, I think your friend, Z, doesn’t like Sahar and me. She seems to have pre-conceived notions about teenagers, as if we are mildly dangerous," my 14-year-old daughter Aliza said to me.
I nodded slightly and turned to look at her. Since I am still on my self-imposed “quiet phase" of parenting, I wasn’t going to respond with words. After a pause, Aliza spoke again. “Or maybe I am wrong about her. After all I am a teenager and teenagers too have pre-conceived notions about what people think of them."
It was a small moment but it stayed with me. In the act of confessing that she may be being judgemental, the adolescent was practising being non-judgemental. She was relieving herself of the burden of disliking someone as well as the pain of feeling disliked. She was excusing me from having to take sides or defend any one party against the other. She was also showing me a way to be.
Over a year ago, we were on a flight from Bengaluru to Delhi when it struck midnight and the year changed from 2017 to 2018. For the first time in the experience of our family of five, the parents had crashed out in their seats and the children were excited and awake to usher in the new year.
It seems now that the mid-air crossover from one year to the next may have been that milestone when the children grew up into energetic young adults and the parents began to slow down.
As our two older children settle into their teen years, I feel like I have become a new parent all over again. Over the last couple of years, our parent-child relationship has asked for a reset and when we as parents finally came around to understanding how to do that, it is slowly transforming into a glorious new ride.
It’s a brand new experience that takes us to new places, both within and outside of us. But it didn’t come without some unexpected roadblocks and barriers.
Many things changed before I could anticipate them. I was in charge of setting boundaries for them when they were little and the adult world was too chaotic for us. Now they want to test those boundaries. I held them tightly when we crossed roads, now it is a light touch and letting go sooner.
As teenagers, they need to sleep more. In the mornings, of course. They stay awake more. At night, obviously. They want to stay at home when we have to go out. They are ready to go shopping and to the movies by themselves. They want to be left alone in bookshops. They correct my typos and grammar. They laugh at our pronunciation.
They find their own music, films, web shows, books, blogs and even social media platforms. They worship YouTubers and speak in memes. We don’t recognize most of these. They develop new passions and fall in love with what is unfamiliar to their parents. They have found a new world to explore and inhabit. We can barely keep up. We don’t even want to.
To embrace each of these as a positive choice and not as an act of rebellion, the growing child needs a kind of psychic permission from the parents. Not an everyday set of approvals to seek from grown-ups, but a wordless endorsement—one that permeates as confidence. As freedom to listen to one’s own voice. As courage to take one’s own decisions. To have the calmness to fail and start again. To abandon things that don’t work for them any more. To seek anew without calculating costs in conventional terms.
I read an analogy recently that resonated deeply with me. Middle age is quite like adolescence. There is a sense of loss but it is also a time of coming into one’s own. Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that adolescents have parents who are themselves negotiating their middle years. Instead of being in conflict with each other, we can pool our skills and resources.
As an adult, you know you are becoming your own authentic self when you stop seeking permission from others, and start giving permission to yourself. In the same way, children grow up well when parents stop barricading their life with the need to negotiate with authority for every new step they seek to explore.
On my laptop, Aliza found an article in one of the open tabs. It was titled: “Parents should encourage girls to get angry and show it".
“I wish I had been encouraged to be angry," she said with a sigh. “I get so angry inside but I don’t know how to express it."
“Same here," I said to her. “I am afraid of my own anger. Maybe we can both learn to express it safely."
“I feel it is too late, Mamma," she said.
“Come on, just do the math, Aliza," I said. “If I can fix myself now, it will be three times faster for you."
Since it is usually Aliza who intervenes in our conversations with logic and math, she was easily disarmed. We agreed that there is no excuse for both of us to not choose the life we want.
Even as life seems to be in flux all the time, there are some things that need not change. Prolong the childhood of your children as long as you can. Prolong your own for the rest of your life.
As the children eagerly grow into young adults, get back your old life. Or get a brand new life. Or get both of them simultaneously if that is what rocks your hyperactive boat.
That yearning we have for the best years of our life—now is the time to live them again. All those years of silence—treat them as a rest period. Thaw the ice inside you. Let my words be the warmth you need as winter turns to spring all around us.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker and the author of the books My Daughters’ Mum and Immortal For A Moment.