Recently, while shopping at the grocery store, I happened to overhear a conversation between a mother and her young teenage daughter. I am guessing that mom was in her early forties and her daughter probably 13 or 14. The subject was love.
Apparently, this young girl was going through her first break up with her boyfriend of three long months. It was painfully obvious that she had been crying -- a lot -- as she was fighting back tears .
Mom: "Don't be ridiculous, you didn't love Danny, you aren't even old enough to know what love is. The sooner you put him out of your mind, the better. You are a beautiful girl and it's his loss. Personally, I though he was an idiot, anyway."
Daughter: "I do know what love is, Mom. I still love him. I miss him. I can't even stop crying about it."
Mom: "You can and you will. You are such a drama queen, you always have been. You are making way too much of this. There are plenty of fish in the sea and you have your whole life ahead of you. You barely saw each other. You went to a few movies and school things and spent the rest of the time talking on the phone or messaging. That is NOT love!"
Daughter: "You don't know anything, Mom, I was so dumb to think you would understand."
Mom: "Oh, stop! Grab that last bag for me and let's go."
As the young girl gathered up the last bag of groceries, she looked my way as I started placing my items on the conveyor belt. I smiled and leaned in closely and whispered to her, "I may not be your age, but I know what you are feeling, I remember it well," and she finally let those last tears fall. She shot me a quick but meaningful glance of teen angst gratitude and with a toss of her long brown tresses, was on her way to catch up to her mother.
It baffles me when some parents truly cannot understand why their children won't come to them with their problems. This is one prime example of why they won't. I'm sure this woman loves her daughter very much and believes that this was just some silly boy crush that will soon be forgotten. What she doesn't realize is that the feelings her young daughter was experiencing were very real to her. Love is relative, depending on our age.
I haven't forgotten what it felt like when I went through my first break up. I was sure there would never be another like him and that my tender heart would never heal, much less love again. I didn't want to go to school. I couldn't bear to see him so soon.
What we come to know as love later in life is a different kind of love. Throw the powerful force of intimacy in there and love now has yet a deeper level. The birth of your children opens up yet another kind of love and depth we had never experienced before.
Love changes with time, with partners, with children, with age -- sometimes in the blink of an eye. This girl did love that boy to the degree she knew of love and for her mother to dismiss it so casually was to dismiss her daughter's feelings casually. Will her daughter go back to her mother when she experiences the next level? Will she feel comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings about sex with the mom that dismisses her feelings so easily? Without a foundation of trust and respect for one another's feelings, those of parent and child, the critical, sometimes life-changing, conversations are more difficult to have.
I always tried to remember how I felt at the age my kids were when they came to me with a problem involving complex emotions. This is, of course, when they were older but even young children have emotions that we as parents sometimes dismiss too quickly. I know I was guilty of that at times.
We aren't perfect, especially when our lives are so busy with young children and all that's involved in just the day to day activities, chores, meals, homework, etc. Kids usually pick just about the worst times possible share their latest crisis with us (like the grocery store) and the reality of being able to stop, drop and listen isn't always an option. However, there is time to acknowledge their feelings and say, "Honey, this sounds like something we need to actually sit down and talk about when I have the time to really listen to what you are telling me. How about when we get home, you help me put the groceries away and we'll talk over a snack, ok?"
In the meantime, try and remember back to when you were their age and don't compare their feelings and perceptions of them to your own life experience. They aren't there yet. To them, it's real and the more they know, that while you may not agree, you will at least validate their feelings and offer guidance (or even impose boundaries or restrictions if necessary) the more likely they are to keep you in the loop that is their world.
They may become parents themselves one day and what they learn from you now, they will incorporate with their own parenting style. Listen to them and remember you were once their age. Not only will it keep you young at heart, you might just stumble across a memory or two of your own travels back down the rocky road we called "Lover's Lane." It was a wild roller coaster of emotions, thrilling and frightening, with ups and downs all at the same time. The good parts were magic, remember?
Let them share with you their pain and their magic. Share a story of your own with them. Nothing used to make me feel more connected to my mother than when she would talk of her days as a young girl and her "beaus." It was like she was letting me into a secret place in her heart. It's a good thing for our children to realize we were young once, as they tend to see us as only mom or dad. Open up your youthful heart sometimes and let your children catch a glimpse of the you that once was.
It may just be the young girl in you that your son or daughter returns to talk to when yet another crisis befalls them. Lucky for them, that young girl possesses the wisdom and patience of a loving parent and adult and can lovingly guide them down the right path.