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Come on Over: The Joy of Having Teens in My House

Teenagers are my favorite human beings.

When I say that out loud, people often look at me as if I misspoke or they misunderstood, but it’s true. There is something magical about teenagers.

I am in awe of the way teens straddle the line between childhood and adulthood. The way they can say something so profound and insightful one moment—and the next, they’re sprawled across the couch watching cartoons, eating Cheetos and getting orange fingerprints on everything. I love that there is unlimited potential and a wealth of possibilities contained inside each and every one of them alongside memories of words mispronounced and the goofy, giggly laughs with friends and siblings.

When I became a parent, I knew I wanted my house to be “that house.”

The one where the teenagers gather after school to do homework and eat astonishing quantities of snack foods, leaving a pile of shoes and jackets in their wake. I told my kids that their friends were welcome anytime, that the pantry would always be stocked with grab-and-go food, and that the basement was their disco. We hosted slumber parties and dance parties alike. I remember some parents dropping their kids off at our house for the evening and shaking their heads in wonder.

So much of the desire to be the house where kids gathered was rooted in a childhood where, most days, I couldn’t wait to be out of the house. This meant that as a parent, not only did I want my house to be the disco house, but I wanted it to be a sanctuary, too. I wanted to create a space where kids who didn’t want to be at home could come and feel comfortable and safe.

As someone who didn’t have a close relationship with my parents as a teenager, I wanted to offer the possibility of a connection with a caring adult to kids who wanted that. I know that, even if I had been close to my parents, there were some things I wouldn’t have told them. I also know it is incredibly important for teens to have adults in their lives to confide in and bounce ideas off.

I wanted to be that person for any of my kids’ friends who didn’t have someone.

When my kids were in high school, I was lucky enough to have a room in the basement of our home that remained available for whomever needed it—for a night or a week or six months. There was something incredibly rewarding about welcoming a teen into that sanctuary space. I was intentional about folding this young person in to the fabric of our lives in any way they wanted—family dinners, movie night, catching a ride to school, just hanging out in the kitchen talking shit while I cooked. 

Teens are caught in a hurricane of expectations—all while their bodies are changing and their identities are in flux. I know how important it is to have a safe, quiet space to rest where there were no expectations. A place where they could be cared for while they sorted out some of the most confusing questions they’d ever faced: Who am I? What do I care about? How will I manage to get where I want to go? Who is truly on my side? 

More than anything, I wanted my kids and their friends to know that my support was unwavering. I wanted them to be certain of the fact that I was available for all kinds of care—from basic things like food, shelter, and rest, to a listening ear and an adult perspective if they wanted one. And in creating that space, I was lucky enough to spend many hours listening to belly laughs coming from the family room, playing card games at the kitchen table with a collection of young people, and getting hugs from teens who knew they were welcome in my home. 

I have an empty nest now and I miss those days. But I am thrilled to still be in touch with many of those amazing humans who came through my door and stayed as long as they needed. It has been a joy watching them grow up and begin making their way in the world, knowing they are cared for and capable of so much more than they once thought possible.

Kari O'Driscoll

Kari O’Driscoll is the mother of two young adults and the author of the forthcoming book “Happy, Healthy Teens: Why Focusing on Relationship Works.” She is the founder of The SELF Project, an organization dedicated to creating community and strong, foundational relationships with adolescents, and the author of two other books. You can discover more at www.theselfproject.com or www.kariodriscollwriter.com

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