I’m rereading the book Untangled by Lisa Damour. It’s book designed to coach parents through some of the natural behaviors in their teenage girls. The author does a great job clarifying some of the ways teen girls treat their parents and demystifying the reasons behind these behaviors.
I lent the book to a friend and then, after a few days of really hard mother-daughter time, I hastily borrowed it back. As I was rereading it over the weekend I came across Damour’s swimming pool analogy.
Teenagers are breaking out of childhood, basically taking a big plunge towards adulthood. It’s like they are in a swimming pool, playing, splashing around, goofing off with their friends, treading water, trying to stay afloat. But every so often they have to come to the pool’s edge and hang on. They have to catch their breath. When my daughter is splashing around in her pool she has no time for me. I frustrate her. I’m uncool and annoying. My rules about her phone and her chores have no place at her pool party. She wants to be with her friends, float on her raft, have underwater tea parties. But when she gets tired of splashing around, when she’s done holding her breath and doing back flips she’ll need some support. She’ll need to hold onto the wall and take some deep breaths. We parents are the pool’s edge. We represent the clear support and comfort that comes during childhood. Our poor teenagers are in the middle, neither kids not adults, so they toggle back and forth between the two worlds, never sure of where to settle.
For my daughter, she tends to hang onto the wall at bedtime, especially on the weekends after a long week of school, socializing and maintaining the expectations that come with being a seventh-grader. I’ll lie in bed with her and she’ll say, “Mom, let’s not read tonight. Let’s just chitty chat.” She’ll lie on her side with her arm over my belly and snuggle in close. We’ll chat with her about day, her week, or some random observation she’s made about the world. It’s like old times and it feels good for us both to have a break from the tumult of teenagehood.
We all grow out of adolescence but we’ll always need a wall, a place to hold onto, a moment to catch our breath. None of us can be eternally splashing. In life, the pool’s edge might be represented by a person we love and trust, or a place that’s safe and warm and familiar, or an activity that feels grounding. At this stage in my life, I am the pool’s edge for my daughter. It takes a lot of patience and strength. I need to replenish my energy coffers often. It’s a work in progress. Sometimes my wall is a good cry on my partner Nancy’s shoulder. Sometimes it’s a run with my friend Kate. Often it’s my yoga practice or writing. Life is a great big swimming pool and we’re all just figuring out what tricks will keep us afloat.
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