Skip to main content

Today's Family Magazine

Mommy Chronicles: When your teen "soils the nest"

By Stacy Turner

As soon as she was able to communicate, our eldest daughter let us know that she wanted to do it-- whatever it was -- by herself.  From selecting what to wear, what to eat, or clipping the intricate buckles on her car seat, we learned to allow extra time, knowing she’d push aside our offers of help with an authoritative, “Not you -- my do!” 

When looking through old photos recently, she asked why in the world we let her dress that way, wearing a combination of patterns, textures, regular and funky dress-up clothes. I explained that her younger self insisted on the “my do” mantra, adding or subtracting based on the day’s real or imagined adventures.  “But you let me look like an idiot!,” she now complains.  Reflecting on the major temper tantrums that often erupted during her terrible twos and threes, it was important to give her the chance to be sovereign over some small things.  Her triumphant smile in those silly photos is something we still treasure.

She was a ball of energy, moving continually from dawn until dusk. Convinced she’d miss all the fun by being forced to take an afternoon nap, she railed against the tyranny of it.  One day, I found her on the bedroom floor sound asleep with a legging on one leg, half a pair of pants on the other, and a shirt half-covering her head and one arm.  The nap she fought to elude with fashion aplomb had nonetheless triumphed over her tiny iron will in the end.  After that, instead of sending her to her room, I’d suggested quiet activities, giving sleep the chance to approach in stealth. Once she succumbed, head down on the table strewn with tiny plastic cups mid-tea party, another time in a heap in her comfy TV chair as Dora droned on in the background.  Other times we’d run errands, enticing sleep by the monotone voices on public radio broadcasts, the white noise of tires on the highway, or the soothing sounds of a rainforest CD. And this is the dance we played until she officially outgrew naps, since lack of (her) sleep tended to make life harder on all of us. 

Over time, she matured and learned to better manage her own needs.  When she was a bit older her main concern, at least that summer, was figuring out a proper mermaid name.  As I was unfamiliar with the intricacies of mermaid nomenclature, she quickly informed me that a mermaid name must be different from your regular name and from the regular name of any friend you’re swimming with.  To be clear, your mermaid name must also be different than your friend’s mermaid name.  Can you just imagine the utter chaos at the pool when someone calls Ariel, and a multitude of sea princesses answer?  It was helpful to have the inside scoop on tricky social situations like these.  I miss having conversations where the answers are so clear cut. 

Now that she’s a high school senior heading to college in a few short months, she likes to remind us that she’s got everything figured out and can’t wait to be out on her own.  I remember feeling that way, blissfully unaware of all I didn’t know, and I worry that her usual mantra may cause trouble.  On a recent night, she headed straight to her room after nearly falling asleep at dinner, with plans to go to bed early.  When I checked in several hours later, she looked up from her phone with bleary, half-closed eyes, still (barely) awake.  When I asked why she hadn’t gone to bed, she informed me that she’s old enough to decide when to go to bed.  Her obstinate expression mirrored that of her 3-year-old self, trying to negotiate an end to naptime, and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. I understand that in a few months, she’ll be making her own decisions, but while she’s still with us, we’re holding fast to what works to try and help her make good decisions.  Plus, she’s still a beast to deal with when she’s overtired. 

Through many similar interactions over the past few months, my husband and I are comfortable being the bad guys because, no matter what she believes, she still needs us.  It’s difficult as she tests boundaries and pushes limits more frequently.  She’s become adept at letting us know we aren’t her favorite people some days.  A friend referred to this process as “soiling the nest,” explaining that sometimes kids (young fledglings) try to make the nest so uncomfortable that their mamma (bird) wants to push them right out.  I guess that fits in with the empty nest analogy everyone in our similar situation has been talking about lately.

Not much of a birder, I’m reminded of the final few weeks of pregnancy when lack of sleep and discomfort replace the fear of labor and delivery. Perhaps this current pain, too, has a purpose -- making graduation and college drop off a little easier to bear. At any rate, it’s nice to remember some of the challenges we’ve successfully faced together.  Who knows, maybe when she returns, she’ll have stories to share after she’s had the chance to spread her wings a bit — maybe after a nap.