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Communicating with Your Teenager: How Getting Away Helped Us Connect

My 13-year-old daughter and I have a long tradition of taking summertime trips together. It started when she was a toddler. I’d put her in her car seat, make a pile around her of toys and books, snacks and sippy cups, and take off for my sister’s house eight hours away. Those early trips were hard work. We’d leave my husband behind, so I was always “on duty.” Naptime struggles and meltdowns on those trips almost made them not worthwhile. There were times I would cry in the front seat while she was crying in the back seat (both probably due to pure exhaustion). But, we kept doing it. They were a time for the two of us to bond, and I knew even though they were grueling, they were important.

Communicating with Your Teenager

When my daughter was 9, we decided to make a celebration of successfully finishing each school year by planning a road trip. As a stay-at-home mom, I am usually the taskmaster. My husband is out the door for work well before we even wake up and often comes home long after we return home from school. So, I’m the one in the morning nagging her about whether she packs a snack and asking if she has her tennis uniform. When I pick her up from school, I find out about homework for the night and how her tests went. I make sure she doesn’t put too much syrup on her waffles and that she eats her fruits and vegetables. And sometimes there’s yelling when things don’t go smoothly.

I figured planning a vacation together would give me an excuse to be the fun one for a change.

I read somewhere that planning a trip brings as much joy as the actual trip itself. In our case this is true. We pore through local magazines for inspiration on where to go, and throughout the school year we huddle up and plot and plan. We have so much fun researching local attractions and restaurants. And during the coldest days of winter, it is a welcome respite to dream about warmer weather and a time when homework won’t be due.

Road Trip!

For our inaugural summer trip, we decided on a bed and breakfast with a kitschy theme. As soon as school let out, we packed up the car, put the bikes on the rack, and headed out on the road. We spent the weekend binge-watching shows from our creaky double bed, exploring the area on our bikes, and enjoying being together without the cloud of homework or extracurricular activities looming over us. Much of our time together was spent with her filling me in on her life, and me listening to all the details.

The next year we stayed in the tiniest cabin I have ever seen, all the better for bonding. We sat on our little deck, explored the local sights, snuggled on the couch and talked. A lot. Truthfully, it was mostly her talking and me listening (which, as a talker myself, wasn’t easy for me). But I love it when she shares details about her life, and I know that won’t always be the case, so I let her lead the conversations.

Each year we choose a different spot, but we always return more connected.

These trips are so important to me because solidifying our bond now will carry us through all the various phases of our lives. As a teenager, she naturally goes through periods of needing space from me to assert her independence. During those times, while I miss her sitting so close to me on the couch our shoulders touch, I know that I can always look forward to our next vacation together. It’s something I cherish, and I think our annual trips have helped to create this dynamic.

A Chance to Reconnect

This year, we stayed in an 1800’s jail that is now a B&B. We spent our days eating snack foods, bike riding, and listening to our favorite playlist in the car. And as always, she filled me in on her life. I got to ask her what her favorite moments from the school year were and her not-so-favorites (all that homework).

But I’ve noticed that our conversations also seem more grown-up. She now asks for my advice, and we talk about real-world issues.

The months from September until June are so hectic that it’s easy to get into a rut of just putting one foot in front of the other. Planning these trips together gives us a reason to slow down and come together.

This time is fleeting. In a blink of an eye, my daughter will be off to college. I hope that she will always want to go on these trips with her mama, filling up the space between us with conversation.

Melanie Dawson

Melanie Dawson lives in Minneapolis, MN with her 13 year old daughter, her husband, and their yellow lab Sammy Sue. She is a Certified Health & Wellness Consultant, obsessive golfer, and according to her family makes a mean caprese pasta. You can find her at her blog Cultivate Wellness and on her Facebook page