Sisyphean parenting

The iconic Zits comic strip, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, recently depicted the act of parenting a teenager as similar to the apparent curse bestowed on Sisyphus, rolling the same boulder up a hill, over and over again only to have it roll back down again.

This delights me, because I made a similar metaphor for Rule 10 in my book, Breaking the Hush Factor: Ten rules for talking with teenagers about sex.

The difference between the way that Jerry and Jim portrayed this experience and the way that I talk about it in Breaking the Hush Factor is the lens through which Albert Camus told the story. The quote from Camus’ telling on the bottom of my Rule 10 badge is this: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” Camus was saying that the reality of engaging can itself be a joy rather than a toil.

In my book, I made the connection between conversations about sex and sexuality, which have to happen over and over again. As a child grows into an adult, they pass through many stages of identity and sexuality. They will be grappling with different issues and relating to sexuality, both internally and potentially shared with others, in emerging ways throughout that growth process. As such, young people need conversations about sexuality to continue throughout their adolescent developmental process, repeated, in a potentially Sisyphus-like way.

It is my hope that parents will draw joy from this process of talking about sexuality with their teenagers over and over again.

(The remainder of this blog post is in support of parents. If you would like to read what I have to say to professionals on how they can support parents, you can find that here.)

It is, in fact, my hope that you will draw joy from talking with your teenager about sexuality. Sexuality is something that’s fun and interesting to talk about. It touches so many areas of our lives (biological, emotional, psychological, social, cultural, historical, legal, and more!). The ways to talk about the topic are really endless – I promise you they are! I spend most of my days that way! There will be ways to talk with your teenager that you both find interesting and engaging. They don’t necessarily have to be you teaching your teenager anything at all – they don’t have to be about your teenager disclosing anything at all. They can be conversations about a movie or a song or someone you know. They can be conversations about legal rights and restrictions. They can be about whatever it is your teenager finds interesting. Hopefully your conversations with your teenager will be about all of these things at one point in time or another, and it is likely that you will enjoy some of them more than others.

If you are able to take joy in them, to relish the process of going over the same thing again and again as long as your teenager needs those conversations, your teenager will benefit from it. In the same way that a toddler can pour a cup of water into a bathtub approximately 8 million times, your teenager may need to hash out the same piece of sexuality 8 million times. And you are up to that challenge!

Chapter 10 in Breaking the Hush Factor is really all about being up to the challenge. About forging onward when something seems endless. About changing your perspective so that the endlessness can be shifted to a joyful eternity.

In the badge for Chapter 10, you’ll notice that the sun is rising behind Sisyphus, and that’s no coincidence. The sun rises every morning – and it’s remarkable every time. Whether it’s beautiful or mundane has only to do with where you’re standing. You have the power to choose where you stand in conversations with your teenager about sexuality.

I hope you’ll choose a place that allows you to see the beauty every single time.