Last week, while racing around watching my children's events at sports day, I caught five minutes with a friend whose daughters are the same age as mine. My eldest daughter had spent much of the day sitting in the car, upset over friendship issues while I once again endeavoured to find the balance in supporting her emotionally while also allowing her the chance to become more resilient.
"Is it just my daughter or are yours struggling too?" I ask my friend. She assures me hers have experienced similar. It is a conversation crammed into only minutes yet affords me relief that I am not the only parent dealing with these issues. I long to stay in this moment of connection; to cling to this place where I feel understood and less alone, but my friend and I are pulled in other directions, our conversation over.
This is usual, it seems, for parents of teenagers. It's a paradoxical season; one where we find our schedule full but our social lives empty. Where we experience isolation and loneliness yet lack the time and energy to pursue relationships. Where even if we did find ourselves able to summon the elements needed to socialise, the chances of coordinating any moments of time with our parent friends are zero to none.
The thing is, everyone tells you raising teenagers is hard.
But no one tells you it will be lonely. So very, very lonely.
The other day while scrolling social media I read an article I knew another friend would appreciate. It took me ages to find our chat thread to send it to her. Has it been THAT long since we spoke, I wondered. Finally, I found the last message I sent to her, promising to get back to her later. It was dated a year ago. AN ENTIRE F**KING YEAR AGO. Jesus, I thought. What happened to me? When did I become a person who took a year to reply to a message?
This friend's children are young; primary school aged and under. She no doubt thinks I'm a sh**ty friend. It's difficult to explain to someone who is in the season of hands-on parenting how yes, my children can now bathe themselves and dress themselves and feed themselves and one of them can even legally drink alcohol and vote for god's sake and yet, I still find myself stretched so mentally and emotionally thin I can't seem to maintain my own sanity, let alone maintain friendships. It's a different season to raising young children, yes. But no less hard.
Unless you're a parent of teenagers it can be hard to fully comprehend the dichotomy of this season; how we find ourselves longing for the community of mother's groups and playdates we once had. But how, beyond the hectic schedules and emotional exhaustion, we have also become a little inward and tight-lipped; afraid to admit this is hard and we're struggling.
Afraid any poor choices our teenager has made will reflect on our parenting. Afraid of being criticised and judged. Afraid to break the privacy of our teenager's struggles even as they become our own to carry.
It's easy to sit at mother's group and complain that our babies won't sleep or our toddlers keep biting or our pre-schooler refuses to share. It's harder to say we're worried our teenagers are having sex or taking drugs or failing school.
To admit we're worried we're not doing this right, or that some days, we don't want to do this at all. To admit defeat or failure at a time when the stakes are so high and everyone around you seems to have it together while you fumble through with your fingernails chewed to their skin and a perpetual glass of wine in hand, wondering how often you can drink alone before your kids start tagging you in alcoholic memes (oh, wait).
It isn't that my teenagers aren't wonderful company, when they feel like it. But they're still teenagers; moody, self-absorbed, self-centred. There are days I feel as though I am raising toddlers again -- tall toddlers with a more expansive vocabulary yet nonetheless, the same testing of boundaries, throwing of tantrums, snarky attitude, whining, complaining and arguing. They still - as I continue to invest the best of myself in raising them - often reward me with their worst.
They are still most often connected to a virtual world I am not part of; one that continues to leave me weary the more I witness how online connection has led to such real-life disconnection.
There is also, in midst of this, the struggle to acclimatise to how my role is changing; trying to calculate how much parenting is required when I am needed less, yet somehow more than ever.
The awareness of how long the days have been yet how short the years have become; grappling with how few days I have left with them under my roof, wondering if I have done enough. As well as the need to rediscover my own identity when being a mother has been at the core of my being for the last two decades.
None of this is to discount the hardship of parenting at any stage. Every season is challenging and exhausting in its own way. But even though the struggles that parents of teenagers are facing may be less visible, it is now, more than ever, we need help and support and to know we're not alone.
Because in the loudness that is raising teenagers, I assure you, the loneliness is louder.