I get asked all the time about my son, E. How did I score one of the rare awesome teenagers in the world?
I'm always very flattered — how can you not be when someone is enamored with your child? My instinct and dominant responses usually revolve around reasons that have little to do with me. If they're speaking in reference to how awesome E is with his brother and sister, I give him all of the credit. I explain that E wanted to be a big brother for years.
He suffered as much through my struggle to have a child and resulting miscarriages as I did. I believe this anticipation over having young siblings helped form a good basis for his relationship with them. He truly enjoys their company a lot of the time. Not ALL the time — they are small and often annoying. But, many long days are best ended by play sessions with his little brother and sister. He just loves chasing them around and playing with them. They, in turn, worship the ground he walks on. Great situation for me, but I take none of the credit.
Surprise! A lot of teens aren't the heathens they're made out to be.
I've realized as I get to know all of my son's friend's that there are a LOT of awesome teenagers in the world. Way more than primetime television wants to tell you about. With all of the crazy reality shows and scripted teen dramas painting The Teenager as everything from trashy spoiled brats to drugged out deviants, we tend to have false negative expectations of what The Teenager actually is. I know because I was surprised, too! I thought my son was an anomaly. When I had to interact with his classmates, I braced myself for the worst. Lo and Behold … they were awesome too! In other words? My son is totally just one of a very large, but very under-noticed population of Good Kids. Don't lose hope, America!
Sometimes the question or compliment I'm given regarding E is more specifically about our relationship. How are we so close? How do I get him to hang out and do things with me and the family? How have I built such a great friendship with him while still being his Mom? I can't always pass the buck off in these instances. Sometimes? I have to accept some of the credit myself.
Finding common interests
I credit our close relationship with the same thing that adults need to have good friendships: having common interests. Somewhere along the way when E was child, I learned the value of having something to talk about at dinner. I think it must have surely started with Harry Potter. (That's where it ALL starts in our home.) He was five when I discovered the books. Once he started reading them a while later, we had so much to be excited about together for the following years. Midnight movie and book releases, and recently we even had our own Harry Potter party!
Harry Potter was easy — we both loved it. It gave us plenty to talk about and that, to me, has always been the key. Kids like being excited. About anything. If you can take advantage of that and share the excitement with them, then forming a bond is relatively easy. They want someone to share their excitement. As long as you can be sincere about it and don't fake interest in something you don't actually like? They'll come to YOU. Harry Potter was only a few times every few years. When the books came out, or the movies, we were all about it. But it takes more than just a few days a year to build a relationship.
With E, there are a lot of things that he likes that I just can NOT get into. There are TV shows he watches that drive me crazy, books he reads that bore me to death, and movies he gets excited about that I'd rather stab my eyeballs out than watch. But I keep trying. He keeps making suggestions, knowing that sometimes he helps me find something I adore. He gives me books to read and music to listen to. And I try everything. We now have a fantastic foundation of shared interests to build on. I even recommend stuff to him, like the most recent Hunger Games series. [Side note from Ariel: I'm obsessed with the Hunger Games right now. OBSESSED!]
Be genuinely interested and involved
I also take sincere interest in stories he tells about school or recreational activities. If he's proud of a good grade or mortified by an embarrassing moment, I don't just nod and hum. I actually engage in conversation and get invested.
These small moments are what keeps us close even between the periodic punishments and groundings for non-ideal behavior. Of course he's not perfect. Sometimes he's grounded. And these moments suck. But we can still have a friendship even around those moments because we have so many shared interests. We've got a book release in May we're very excited about, we've purchased tickets to a few performances this year we're anticipating, and we both just bought the same album on iTunes this week.
In conclusion …
Is any of this easy? Sometimes, yes. Often … no. It requires a lot of failed attempts, but I don't give up because every shared interest adds to the foundation of our friendship, just like it would if he was simply my peer. This friendship allows us to stay close and gives us plenty to talk about which is key. The second you lose conversation? They grow further and further away with every car ride and meal that comes and goes in silence.
Does this make me a great parent? Not really. I just stumbled upon this valuable tool during the beginning days of Harry Potter. I realized how much I enjoyed having someone to share the excitement with, and how easily it could work the other way too. Give my son someone in the same house to share excitement with — that's all it is. A relationship built on shared interests. Just like every friendship I've ever had. Does this mean he never disobeys? No. Does this mean I never have to yell or punish? No. But it gives us a foundation that holds up our friendship even between those instances.
And in the end? I rely on that friendship. I love having someone to tell when a favorite author is writing a new book or a band is releasing a new album. And when that someone eats several meals a day at the same table I do? Best. Best. Friend. EVER.