Parallel Play for Teenagers
So, my daughter and I are taking an afternoon walk. We do this sometimes, especially when the days start to get longer, before winter is completely over -- A. doesn't mind to be outside as long as it's cold and the sun isn't so bright and the air is not full of annoying, buzzing insects. We come home from school and work and we take to the walking trail behind the house, mostly because it's super easy to access, and partially because we both need a little bit of exercise in our day. It's also a way for the two of us to spend some time together, even though it probably doesn't really look like that from the outside.
From the outside, you'd see a teenager ambling along with headphones stuck in her ears, music blaring loudly, sometimes dancing, sometimes singing along to the lyrics. The lyrics are often dark, depressing, and even dystopian in nature -- talking about how black and cold the world is. Y'know -- typical teenage stuff. You'd also see a mom ambling along beside her, often a few steps behind or a few steps ahead, and you might even wonder why they are bothering walking together, despite their matching black pea coats, since obviously they are not spending any time together.
But, see -- that's where you'd be entirely wrong.
This is how I spend time with my daughter, now that she's a teenager. It's so subtle that I didn't even realize it was a thing, initially. For months, I thought A. was no longer interested in spending time with me, that she wanted her independence, and she wanted me as far away as possible. She didn't engage with me, and at times she seemed to actively avoid me. Since it was obvious she didn't want me around, then wasn't it only decent of me to acquiesce to her wishes? Shouldn't I back off?
But, see -- that's not the way she works.
We may not say much as we walk along the trail in the dying light of evening. A. may stay two steps ahead or two steps behind me. She may keep the earbuds in her ears as she belts out her incredibly teen-angst lyrics. But, every so often, I'll look back at her, or she'll look back at me, and I'll give a thumbs up, or she will. It's a small gesture, but it's how we let each other know -- hey, we're here. We're still here, together, and we love each other. We don't have to be doing anything more than walking along in silence, but that's good enough. That's a way to show each other that we care, that we're available, that we're still acknowledging the importance of this connection -- the importance of evening walks in the growing twilight.
Every once in a while, I'll get brave and break the silence -- I'll ask her something specific about school, or I'll ask her if she heard a song and play part of it for her. It's never anything life-shattering or earth-shaking, but it's a small connection. Sometimes, after such an interaction, she'll even leave one of the earbuds out for a while, just in case I have more to say.
The point is, bonding happens in many different ways for many different people. For my daughter and I, we're doing what we've always done -- this sort of awkward parallel play, where I mirror her, stay beside her, do what she does, and every once in a while push so gently against those boundaries -- not enough to irritate or agitate, but just enough to make that social connection, just enough so that she knows she is not alone in the world. These moments are just as important now that she's a teenager as they were when she was a toddler -- for completely different reasons, of course, and in entirely new ways. Still, the interactions need to happen, and thus I continue our more grown-up version of parallel play.
I look forward to finishing up the office so that we can both sit beside each other on our respective computers. I feel like that will just further extend our moments of parallel play, where we can both be separately engaged but can still reach out from time to time -- hey, are you still there? Hey -- I'm still here.