“The famous physicist, Erwin Schrodinger, said that if you put a cat in a box with a poison that might kill it, at the end of an hour, the cat has a 50% chance of being alive and a 50% chance of being dead. According to quantum mechanics, since we can’t see in the box to know if the cat is alive or dead, the cat is both alive and dead.”
I wonder if the Schroedinger had a 14-year-old son? Did he ever want to put that son in the box? I mean, the idea that something can be both alive and dead is no new concept to me. I could tell you all about it in the morning before I have my first cup of coffee.
I run a private practice counselling clinic and speak to parents all the time about their kids. I mention wanting to shut them in a box less, but the paradoxical needs come up all the time. Here you have these giant toddler/adults pushing boundaries in larger social capacities with greater stakes than actual toddlers, but they still need your cuddles, time and attention. It’s the same phenomenon observed in Mommy and Me groups wherein these sweet toddlers rush off to explore their new environment and friends, then rush back to check in with mom. Teens are both like giant toddlers and not. They run out into a world that stretches farther than our capacity to see them, oftentimes with a snide remark and a request for cash before leaving. Then they come back and need us to contextualize, love them and guide them in smaller, more nuanced measures than when they were toddlers.
The teen edition of social boundary pushing is that not only are they physically going to explore separately from us, but they are also conceptually differentiating from us.
There is the teen whose parents are hippies and loathes all things organic, or whose parents are left-wing social activists, and they opt for luxury, opulence and ambition above all else.
“You always think the worst of people socially,” my own son said, taking off his faux-fur coat and brushing his grown-out mullet behind his ears. Lately, he has known not only the right knife to stab my heart with but approaches it at just the right angle to add a little twist. His statement flew in the face of the narrative I have of myself as an open, helpful, non-judgemental counsellor who dedicated the first ten years of his life to making sure he had adequate social opportunities.
My son has consented to my sharing that he has ASD. It’s not as evident on a daily basis as it was when he was younger, and I was taking him to assessments, therapeutic school, occupational therapy, playgroups, outdoor school, and sitting in the gifted program room with him every day because they didn’t have an EA. It was a time when I was being called to various settings, my heart falling into my stomach to pick him up because he was so dysregulated he couldn’t cope in the social environment. When he was in kindergarten, I was told he would be only able to attend school 50% of the time at best while hot tears threatened to pour down my face. He is not that kid now. He attends school independently, is on the honour roll and has a group of really sweet friends. I could not wish more for him. Sometimes it is hard to let go of the old narratives of who he was, what he was capable of then, and truly align with who he is now. Therein lies another paradox of parenting teens, they are both the little kid they were then, and they are now someone completely new.
There is a tightrope balance we walk, allowing for the autonomy their over-firing limbic system needs with the attunement of being the facilitator for the person they are and the values we would like them to uphold. We are the fulcrum between their childhood and adulthood.
We are continually holding close and letting go.
Maybe the closer analogy for Schrodinger isn’t putting a teen in his radioactive box or parenting itself. My heart is in the box, constrained by the past, yet eagerly open to the future, continually breaking and steadfastly loving.