Parenting My Teen through Divorce, Gaming Addiction and Temporary Abandonment
Our guest post today comes from a real mom. Her story is true. She has asked to remain anonymous to protect her son's identity.
The title of this post likely has you assuming that I abandoned my teen. This is not the case. My teen abandoned us. For 8 years I was the full time parent, after my divorce. My child was on the Honor Roll, involved with a teen charity group, had tested out Gifted and had a group of tight knit friends.
As I type this out, I have my child back again. This wasn’t an easy year and a half for me. In fact, it was painful and hurtful and at times – agonizing. My child went from Honor Roll and Principal’s List to all F’s, a video game addiction, pasty skin, blood shot eyes, a flip-flopped sleep schedule (playing video games all night long and then sleeping during the day), 37 days of missed school in one term (to play video games, of course), a suspension at school, an unhealthy diet, multiple ear and sinus infections, lost vision from staring at a screen non-stop, and the possibility of repeating a grade.
For a year and a half I held back my desire to drive right over and force my child into the car. “Come home now!” That’s what I wanted to do but instead, I cried myself to sleep a number of times, prayed for God’s peace upon my hurting heart and reached out to parenting expert friends for advice and guidance.
Absence and Empty Spaces
I kept waiting for my child to say, “Come and get me. I want to come back now.” But that didn’t happen. Not for a year and a half. At one point I went for 6 weeks without seeing my kid. The video game took precedence over seeing me, step-dad and siblings…so for 6 weekends in a row we didn’t see one another.
I have a school memory book that I’ve been filling up since preschool. There are two empty years right now, where all of those papers and memories should be. I wasn’t around for those months and nothing was shared with me. So the slots sit empty.
One day I sat in my car, ready to drive over to get my child. I was done. My heart could take no more. My husband wrapped his arms around me and told me to stay strong. He reminded me that if I forced my child’s hand, no peace would follow; only disharmony and anger. So I walked back into my house and wept, feeling as though my child was drowning in a sea of poor choices and unhealthy decisions that may never be reversed.
A while later my child began to call more often… “Mom. I think I know why you left now. I know why you left him. I get it now.” This was referring to my ex husband; a selfish man indeed. I reminded my child that although this man didn’t know much about love, he loved his child. As much as he was capable of loving…he did love his child. And for him, that was a lot.
I have my child back now, full time. For two weeks we’ve been re-implementing things like hand washing, teeth brushing, sleeping during the night time rather than the day time, video game limits (no more than 2 hours per day), outdoor time, friend time, sibling play time, reading, communication and more. All missing homework assignments have been turned in and grades are going back up again. I’ve also been saying, “I’m really proud of you. I’m proud of your efforts and I see that you are getting healthier and happier again. I love that you have read three books already, too!” I read, often, about how effective praise can be when we praise a child’s efforts specifically rather than saying, “You’re so great! So smart! Well done!”
My kiddo got into the car the other day and told me, “Mom. My teacher said she is proud of me today. She’s never said that before. She said she didn’t realize I was that smart. We were talking about the Holocaust and I answered all of the questions and talked more than any of the other kids. My teacher said she didn’t even know I was listening during class.”
The kindness has returned and the laugher has come back. We giggle and joke and text silly things to one another. There’s empathy and gratitude from both of us, for we both seem to know now that something special went missing for that year and a half. My child needed time to discover the truth and it hurt so much to let it happen. I have no idea how I made it through because it seems like a blur now. I remember writing to my colleagues and I remember them saying, “You have to trust what you did during early childhood. The lessons you taught and the modeling you did. TRUST that.” And somehow…I managed to.
I think the biggest lesson I learned was this one: so many of the things that upset me before do not upset me now. I can let the little things go and focus on the bigger picture. I don’t get mad if underpants get left on the floor because I know: I taught my kid to pick up and later that day, it will get done. I don’t get angry if no chores get done one day because I know: the next day my child will do more than I ask and I’ll feel proud of the effort and help. I trust my kid to make good choices because I trust that I taught my child to do so.
Into the Future
My kiddo has to move schools next year and we sat together, crying about it. I know the pain that comes with leaving friends behind and I empathized with the sorrow. My child said, “Mom. Those friends are all I have here, you know.” I replied, “They WERE all you had here. But you need to remember: you left us. We never left you. Just because you decided to try things without us doesn’t mean we ever stopped loving you or wanting you. We wanted you to come back, every day. None of us felt whole without you. I know you had to make those friends your family but you’re not alone anymore. You have your family back and we have you back. I understand it’s hard to say goodbye to your friends but you’re not saying goodbye and then turning around to be alone. You’re not alone now. We’re a team here.”