When our youngest son turned 13 a couple of weeks ago he was officially engulfed in teen spirit, embracing it wholly, eye rolls and all. Granted, the smell of it had moved in several months before, body spray in a hoodie, and the attitude arrived even earlier.
There was a time that I would chronicle all of it — the love and the loss, the raw and the perfectly flawed. I would put their stories to the wind and let the lessons fall where they may.
For over a decade I maintained a website, the critically acclaimed and financially non-existent Honea Express, upon which our lives were spread from putty to brushstroke and back again.
I published my last piece there nearly four years ago, just after our oldest son had turned 12. I no longer felt ownership of the tales I told, and perhaps I never did. The boys deserved their privacy and ample room to make mistakes. Pausing my pen seemed the thing to do. Life in real time has no need for a narrator.
Since then I have continued to share a bit here and there, but limiting looks into our world has made the words easy to curate. Milestones have given way to keywords, moments to topics and honesty to hashtags. That isn’t to say I haven’t retained my integrity or been authentic — I believe that much is obvious. I’ve never avoided the ugly and uncomfortable or spun in coats of sugar. However, there is a difference between characters and children, and my loyalty is to the latter.
All of which brings me to a crossroads. There is no shortage of parenting prose, no lack of ample advice, unsolicited or otherwise, but the overwhelming majority of it is centered on younger children. There is very little in the way of teen drama this side of The CW. Yet, the fact is that parents of teenagers probably need pings of reassurance more than anyone.
And while several publications and websites, including this one, do address parenting and teens, it still feels like a large hole in need of filling. Real stories of family life with teenagers tend to be purposely vague, broad and academic, dry bread with the crusts cut off.
I suspect, much like my own experience, that it isn’t a lack of material, but rather a healthy respect for privacy that keeps parents, even those who once ran rampant with personal anecdotes, from divulging too much. After all, our obligations to the internet are inflated and self-imposed, but we owe our offspring everything.
The truth is, raising a teen is hard. Each next thing is the most important one ever. Arguments appear from anywhere and emotions are a blur of hugs and door slams. There is an emoji for everything.
The other truth is, raising a teen is wonderful. Teenagers are becoming clearer versions of themselves, defining their humor and heart, trying on interests and exploring opportunities. It is a dance of trust and worry.
Ours is now a home with two teenagers in it, and their stories are everywhere. The telling of which is always tempting and sometimes possible, but even more importantly, perhaps now is a time best spent listening.
Photo of teen angst at the breakfast table: Whit Honea