(as published in Your Teen for parents Magazine, March/April 2016
“Dad, can you drive me to Lisa’s house? Have to be there in ten.”
“Sure. Let me get my keys.”
As I open the garage door, thundering, urgent feet resound above my head.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m taking Kate to Lisa’s house. She has to be there in five.”
“I said she couldn’t go unless she picked up her clothes from the bathroom floor. She’s playing you again. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”
And so it begins again. Two parents divided by one child. Opposing sides within the privacy of our four walls. No winners in a no-win game.
Teenagers have you coming and going time and again. Urban guerillas in skinny jeans and high tops, they unconsciously (consciously) work the schisms, large and small, between parents to gain advantage. And while parents often remain fortified in joint resolve, one’s ability to continuously negotiate and mitigate the damage can fracture a marriage.
I get it. As of child of parents who were never on the same page or reading from the same book, my siblings and I quickly understood that dad’s “yes” meant mom’s “no,” and vice versa We were off to race our bikes (or the movies) as they argued about the whos, whys and hows.
And it got worse. Once divorced, we did the math… division multiplied the ways we could win, and win big. Two homes… two sets of rules. You’re always on spring break when the marriage lies broken apart. Because what’s left when you can’t agree on what’s right for your kids?
When our children are babies, daily baths and dreaming of a rosy future keep cooing parents perfectly in sync. But as time moves on, and children enter their hormonal teens, diapering and daily naps evaporate into frantic discussions about when they can drive the car and whom they may date.
My wife and I… we see the big picture. We check and double check on our agreed-to checklist of what is right, and what is wrong. We check with each other before finalizing any big decisions. Face to face… in texts… on the phone… day in, day out. And most of time, we have peaceful nights on our peaceful lane.
But all it takes is an umpteenth request to drop off, pick up and clean up a sleepover mess from our it’s-all-about-me 14-year old and… what makes our house a home suddenly leaves hairline cracks in our foundation.
Didn’t I know my daughter just went to the mall yesterday?
Why did I get hoodwinked into driving four of her friends all over?
Why do I need to always be so likeable?
Who raised me… wolves?
The last question sets off heated discussions about parenting style and substance well into the night. Suddenly, we are like two clan members fighting over ancestral moral territory that neither of us really cares to defend. While our teenage daughter softly slumbers, dreaming of Shawn Mendes and Ray-Bans, we are left existentially exhausted in a king-sized bed torn asunder.
It’s so funny. We seem so in tune. Treat our child badly and we’re steadfast allies taking no prisoners. Medical emergency? We are a well-trained triage team moving in perfect unison. Boyfriend troubles? Mom heals a broken heart while dad runs to Baskin-Robbins to soothe the wound.
But in seizing the role of good cop, have I forced my wife into the unwanted role of suburban shrew? We are both nurturing, honest and funny; homebodies who love being with our teenage daughters for dinner or open discussions.
But our high-school and college-age daughters see the fundamental differences in our personalities and parenting styles. My “don’t worry, be happy” attitude. My wife’s common-sense, firmer approach. My extroverted exuberance. Her introverted resiliency. Her strengths. My strengths. Our strengths, and our weaknesses.
So maybe next time I’ll text my wife before I drive my daughter… better to be safely aligned than have to say you’re sorry.