This past weekend we learned a valuable lesson in parenting teens. Sometimes you have to be willing to turn the car around.
Let me explain. We were on our way to a camping trip that had been on the books for two months. Our friends had invited us to go camping at a dance hall in the Texas Hill Country. We’d swim in the Blanco River, eat a yummy potluck dinner and then dance the night away to Texas swing music. I was really looking forward to it. It was exactly what I wanted to be doing last Saturday. The perfect little getaway.
But the two teens in our family had different ideas. Charlie had been invited to a marathon scavenger hunt birthday party that lasted eight hours and involved every single cool thing you could do in our very cool city. We compromised and said Charlie could go to half of the party, then we would go camping. By the time we rendezvoused to pick him up at the scavenger hunt, the party was at an escape room and Charlie was not happy to be missing out on that. He was pissed actually.
Meanwhile Emma had been invited to hang out with her friends that night. They were going to walk to get pizza and then watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. My daughter who rarely cries, was wiping streaming tears off of her cheeks about the prospect of missing out on eating pizza for the second time that weekend and watching a Netflix show with friends she sees everyday. And not only was she missing this stuff, she was going to have to sleep ON THE GROUND. Oh, the injustice!
On the other hand Teddy (age 9) was already wearing his bathing suit and really pumped to swim in the Blanco River and go camping.
Did I mention we had a cooler full of food and our car was one hundred percent packed with camping gear? And we were already on the highway to the Hill Country?
After some pretty intense discussion involving gems like “you never listen to us! You always just do what you want to do and don’t ask us!” I gave Brandon the throat slitting gesture, which I intended to mean it was time to abort this mission (and not “you’re dead,” which thankfully was not how Brandon interpreted it).
We turned the car around and took Charlie back to the escape room. I didn’t know if they would let him in late and told him that. “It’s okay, I’ll just wait in the lobby until they’re done,” he said. That was how much he didn’t want to be going camping with us. He’d rather wait by himself in the lobby of an escape room. Thankfully they let him in. I left just as the escape room lady was explaining to a very happy Charlie, “your mission is to stop an evil wizard by finding eight potions…”
I walked outside in the bright, sunshine-y, 80-degree weather (perfect for swimming and camping) to our overstuffed car where Emma, Teddy and Brandon were waiting in the parking lot. We came up with a plan so that Teddy, who was sad to be missing out on swimming, could still take a dip in a natural body of water. We drove across town to a park on Lake Austin where there was a little public beach. The four of us had fun hanging out and playing in the water and enjoying the beautiful summer-like temps until it was time to pick Charlie up from the party.
When we got home, Emma walked over to her friend’s house while the rest of us unpacked the car. The act of unpacking made it feel like we’d actually been somewhere. In a way we had. It felt like we left that morning the parents of kids and came home the parents of teens. Not really your dream vacation, but all part of the parenting journey. We greeted our dog as though we’d been gone for a week, and admitted that it was going to be pretty nice to sleep in our own beds.
And you know what else is nice? That feeling that comes from listening to your kids and giving them a voice. It’s hard to know how to show love to a teen sometimes. They’re not really into PDA anymore. But turning the car around and showing them with your actions, I hear you and I get it. That is pretty much their love language.
I’m not arguing that your teens get to decide everything you do as a family and that their needs and desires always trump what you have planned. But in this particular case, it felt right to sacrifice our idea of fun to let them have their idea of fun. Plus, has anyone ever camped with a sullen teen? Neither have I, nor do I ever want to.