I Don't Know How To Ease My Teen's Pandemic Anxiety, But I'm Learning

It's so hard not to be able to fix things for her this time.
“Why don’t YOU take an online happiness course, Mom?”
“Why don’t YOU take an online happiness course, Mom?”

For the last 11 weeks, I’ve watched my grade 12 daughter cycle through the five stages of grief — or at least the first four. The last stage — acceptance — has so far eluded her.

Coronavirus has given a whole new meaning to “cancel culture,” and for me, as a parent, it’s been painful to watch. For the first time, my girl has lost her footing, and it has thrown us both. I’ve been desperate to help her find meaning in quarantine — or at least opportunity — so that she doesn’t squander the sudden oceans of time she has in front of her

At first, I took a motivational approach. We were going to make lemons out of lemonade! I announced, trailing her from her bedroom to the kitchen, towards the soothing embrace of her daily iced coffee. Fixing her with a too-bright smile, I told her she could choose to see this time as a gift... reflect on who she was and the kind of person she wanted to become. I downloaded teen meditation apps — “We can do them together!” and left “The Power of Now” on her pillow.

After each of those inspo-mom moments — once she had gone back into her room and politely but firmly shut the door in my face — I’d stand there, heart thumping, feeling helpless and out of control.

By week three, I had to make peace with the fact that my daughter had zero interest in finding meaning in the pandemic. Most days, it was like walking on a land mine: if I minimized it, or reminded her that at least she wasn’t a front line worker — “I never SAID I was!”— or suggested she take Yale’s free online happiness course, she’d snap back, eyes blazing: “Why don’t YOU take an online happiness course?”

Other days, she’d come down the stairs, blindsided afresh: “I worked so hard for FOUR YEARS… what was it all for?”

Or she’d refuse to get out of bed, “The day is already too long.”

Or she’d fixate on a microscopic pimple.

When I enquired how online learning was going, she would coolly remind me she’d already gotten into every university she applied to and that her marks couldn’t be lowered. When I’d suggest that she still needed to use her brain or it would get soft, she would stomp upstairs to order another crop top—“even though I have NOWHERE TO WEAR IT!”

But her moods took wild swings in other directions too. One Friday night, she bounced into the kitchen with her speaker and demanded a family dance party right on the spot. Seeing her smile and laugh flooded me with relief. “Next week we’re playing beer pong!” she announced, reminding me of my other quarantine quandary: my underage daughter has decided she should be able to drink when I do. “Ooh, are we having wine tonight?” she’ll say, as I furtively fill my glass inside the fridge door. When I remind her she is still underage, she’ll give me a flat stare. “I’m legal in Quebec.” I make a mental note to stash my booze and cut my drinking in half to set a good example.

I Google “Parenting teens during Coronavirus.” I pour over article after article and make notes. Lisa Damour, an expert on teens whose books I’ve devoured in the past, stresses the importance of empathy, and hope, and suggests saying something like, “I hate that you have lost so much so fast, and I am so sorry it has happened. You’ll get through this, but that doesn’t make it any less miserable right now.” I write that down for later.

The weeks drag on. My daughter mulls over whether or not to do virtual university, ramps up her underage-drinking campaign, and installs LED coloured lights in her room. One night on my way to bed, I see her rocking out by herself to strobing pinks and blues and it hurts my heart. Being locked up with her family right now is about as natural to her as replacing the lid on the toothpaste. Every cell in her body wants to be out with her people.

I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to connect, but for every hit, there are 10 misses. When she asks me to work out with her one afternoon, I jump at the chance, but then almost immediately take issue with her rap lyrics. “I don’t get it!” I shout over the misogynist din, “Why would you want to listen to that??“ “Oh my God! You are unbelievable!” she says, grabbing her speaker and her mat and stomping upstairs to order a crop top.

I walk up to her room. She looks sad and unreachable.

“Sweetie,” I say carefully, searching for the expert’s exact wording. “I hate that you have lost so much so fast… and I am so sorry it has happened.” My daughter stares ahead. I plough forward, “You’ll get through this… but that doesn’t make it any less miserable right now.” I hold my breath and wait for her to unleash her vitriol. Instead, she just looks over at me. She doesn’t thank me or tell me I’m the most amazing, empathetic and intuitive mother in the world, but she doesn’t bite my head off.

That afternoon, I walk into my room to find a small miracle: my daughter sprawled on my bed reading “The Power of Now.” I gingerly set up my yoga mat, loathe to break the spell, and quietly start to stretch. After a while, I work up the courage to ask what she thinks. “It’s boring,” she says. I bite my tongue and nod. “But also, it’s SO weird that we’re always in the present moment.” After a minute, she says, “Listen—‘Do you ever feel like you’re always striving? Do you always feel like you’re waiting for your life to begin?’” She takes a photo of the page and tells me she’s going to post it to Instagram. I keep silently stretching, and notice how much easier life is with a teenager when you stop talking.

The next day, she asks if I want to work out. “Sure…” I say, mentally pledging to walk a line between not judging the lyrics while also exercising my right not to listen to them. But she’s a step ahead of me. “Oh, and don’t worry,” she says with a smile. “I made a PG-13 playlist.”

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