Ghost Parenting the Teen Years


Teenage YearsLike midnight ghosts, we hide in our cars, trade secrets at night, and text when no one is looking. We are the parents of teens. 

We are invisible.

It doesn’t happen overnight. We slowly start to disappear when middle school begins. Dropping our children off in the well-regulated school zones from the comfort of our SUV’s, we look longingly at the other parents secluded behind their windshields and wonder where they are going next? Work? Back to bed? Shopping? At the same time, our not-so-tiny-anymore-figures vanish behind the solid walls without looking back or waving goodbye, before fading into the abyss of the unknown.

We are locked out.

Familiarity begins to wane.  Teachers remain faceless in endless hallways.  No more sugar-filled parties, school plays or carnivals. The slow sauntering of adolescent angst carrying backpacks twice their weight are suddenly a far cry from their excited skips and hugs of elementary school. The parents seem distant as well; foregoing after-school chit-chat and play date arrangements in a seemingly rush to the orthodontist.

Once I brought a forgotten something to the school office when my twin boys were in 8th grade. As I was walking into the school, my son spotted me and exclaimed, “What are YOU doing here?” And I must admit, at times, I’ve felt the same sentiment from parents.


It’s what psychologists call individuation, or forming a full identity, which begins with puberty and can last what seems to be a parental lifetime. Akin to a fledgeling bird aiming to leave its nest and see the world, this process shifts the teen’s dependence from their parents to their peer group,  Granted, when a mother drops a worm in her baby bird’s mouth or flaps her wings in frustration, there is no horrifying embarrassment. But the concept is the same. Let’s be honest; do we really want a full nest of awkward dependents into old age?

I don’t think so.

But, as we slink around the perimeters of parenthood, we are also called on to be present. Sometimes as a chauffeur or chef, many times as a cheerleader. I’ve spent hours with my sons without speaking a word and have come to accept these silences as passages of transition for both of us; they will move forward and I will stay back. In the interim, I try to remember that it’s not cool to dance in the kitchen, shout their names across the parking lot, touch their hair, or take their picture. I tell myself that this is a stage and I’m still the choreographer.

This is only one of many acts to come. What once was unseen will be seen again—waving, crying, skipping, dancing and forgoing embarrassment for joy.

And that holds true for all of us. Even us ghostly parents.