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So much parenting advice asks us to envision bridges as a metaphor for finding the path forward–bridges we need to create now during these tumultuous teen years to build connection with our kids and pave the way for a brighter future when they are adults. Bridges that override the lonely chasms created by chaos and tension. Bridges that link us together from one season of family life to another—from the island of childhood to that of adulthood.

Bridges are regal, durable, and confident. They touch the sky with grandeur. They are exciting and powerful. When we ride over a bridge, we can see just enough of the horizon line to know we’re making it to the other side. Glancing back, we can see how far we’ve come. We feel elation seeing the lush mountains or glittering cityscape ahead. Sometimes, just seeing that we are approaching our destination is enough to ease trepidation.

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I want to lay big, beautiful golden bricks to form the bridge between my teenager and me. I want our towers and arches to ascend into the clouds with trust and confidence. I want nothing more than for the two of us to ride through adolescence atop this bridge as smoothly and faithfully as possible. But truthfully, trying to make it through these teen years doesn’t feel like building a bridge of connection at all. And every time I try to lay the foundation, it can feel like it’s crumbling beneath me.

To me, parenting sometimes feels much more like making my way through a tunnel instead of atop a gloriously built bridge. Suddenly the sunlight fades and all seems dark and quiet. It’s claustrophobic, murky, and panicky. Everyone along for the ride grows silent and a little nervous. We can fear the worst in the depths of a tunnel. It feels impossible to decipher how much longer it’ll take until there is light again. Satellite reception completely stops, and with it, a sense of direction and confidence that we’ll make it out okay. Tunnels are downright disorienting.

Raising a teenager is all of this too. As mothers, we get used to the sunny skies above us as we take care of younger children. The stress of raising infants and toddlers is in the rearview mirror as we enjoy middle childhood. Band-Aids still predictably fix the hurt, and silly breakfasts and bedtime stories are the joyful bookends to each day. But when adolescence arrives, it can feel like the nerve-racking grip of entering an underwater tunnel. All of a sudden, our GPS goes out. Our confidence pauses. Our destination is unseen and doubtful.

In the long and uncertain tunnel of this period of my life, I can get terrified that my son and I will not make it back into the light. My self-doubt can make the journey’s end seem so far away. No matter how much I try to connect with him, his normal pulling away can make it feel like our relationship might be underwater forever. And without specific instructions on exactly how to make it through this mothering journey of ours, how can any of us truly know that we’re even taking the correct route?

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During the teenage years, nothing can feel scarier than the uncertainty of what things will be like on the other side. Have we done enough, given enough love and support? Are we conveying empathy and connectivity to our teens so they’ll know our love is unconditional? Have we created strong family traditions so that we can enjoy our young adults and future grandchildren? Do they come back after this murky period of separation? Will we get to walk alongside each other peacefully from then on?

When all else seems unclear, I remind myself that, like bridges, tunnels are strong and sturdy too. They were built knowledgeably by our strong ancestors who knew that future generations would need durable walls and channels to make it through to the other side for years to come. I have to trust these obscure tunnels too and ride out the temporary darkness. I have to stay strong, travel unafraid, and embrace this confusing time.

I also have to trust myself and the relationship I try to maintain with my son every step of the way, however tricky it may feel. Because before I know it, we will both see the daylight peaking out from the other side. That side is the glorious, bright future and family life we get to enjoy together once we’ve passed through this darker passageway of teenagehood. After all, even in tunnels, there is light again. We always come out on the other side, however long the path may feel. And then, we’ll realize that we were traveling the right way all along.

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Debra Caffrey

Debra Caffrey is the mother of one teenage boy and a writer and editor for Fredericksburg Parent and Family magazine in Virginia. Her writing has been featured on Grown and Flown, Moms of Tweens and Teens, and Her View From Home. Previously, she has published poetry and has had her essays on motherhood featured on bestselling parenting expert Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s website. When she’s not contemplating about parenthood, Debra is usually cooking, reading, exercising, or introverting on her beloved backyard hammock.

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