We all know it is coming. The dreaded mood swings and raging emotions of adolescence. As much as we try to brace for it, there is no way to truly prepare for the day you greet what you thought was your bubbly outgoing child with a cheery “Good morning!” and you’re met with an eye roll and silence as they sit sullenly at the table refusing to acknowledge your existence. And that is the moment you know it has happened… your baby is now a tween or teen. From this day forward it is a total crapshoot what mood your child will be in and quite honestly it is bound to change within minutes or hours anyway even if you do figure it out. Up and down, high and low, in and out. It is a wild ride.
One moment they are laughing and joking and you wonder if this is what it feels like to have successfully raised a human. The next moment and sometimes out of the blue that same human is storming off throwing a dramatic “Why did I get stuck with the worst mom ever?!” or a huffy “Just leave me alone!” Yes, teen emotions are a bewildering and overwhelming element of parenthood for all of us. But what if there is more to it? What if we viewed these highly emotional years not as a burden but as a blessing?
For most of us, we grew up in an era where strong emotions were seen as a negative thing, and expressing them was a weakness. We learned early on to clamp down on emotions, tuck them away, and plaster on our best smile. Because of the culture most of us were raised in, strong feelings make us uncomfortable. The first instinct is to shut down the “bad” feelings. We want to scare that anger right out of our teens with a harsh, “Don’t use that tone with me, young man!” Or stop the tear flow from our daughter’s “overdramatic” response by rationalizing “It’s really not that big of a deal.”
Unfortunately, (well… actually, fortunately) our kids are growing up in a wildly different culture. Our society is recognizing the importance of a healthier understanding of emotions. As mental health issues continue to soar and more research is taking place there is a much greater push for growing what is known as emotional intelligence. This is where your teen’s emotional roller coaster becomes a blessing in disguise. This season of your parenthood is the golden opportunity to face some of the misconceptions you likely grew up with and to become a more emotionally healthy person yourself. We will never be able to fully guide our teens through their struggles when we ourselves haven’t faced our own.
Changing a mentality we’ve known all our life is HARD work. Dealing with “negative” emotions is uncomfortable. It’s messy. It doesn’t fit into our fantasy of a perfectly happy and cooperative family. But in reality, emotions – good and bad, high and low, theirs and ours; they’re all a part of life. A family that is perfectly happy and cooperative all the time doesn’t actually exist. It’s not real. There’s enough fake in the world already, we don’t need to try and make our family be a part of the charade. But, how do we learn to use this time of our kid’s emotional turbulence to work on ourselves? How can we take advantage of this unconventional blessing?
Change our mindset
First and foremost, we need to recognize what emotions are. Emotions are not your child’s way of trying to push your buttons and send you over the brink of insanity. As a general rule, your teen’s emotions have very little to do with you. Rather, emotions are a natural part of life. In fact, they serve an important purpose. Negative emotions are a gateway to a deeper connection. It is in the moments of hurt and sorrow, anger and frustration, disappointment or betrayal that we have an opportunity to grow closer with each other.
When we show our kids that in our family we allow honest, raw, and REAL feelings, we teach them that we are a safe place. That no matter what they are loved and they can be themselves. Isn’t that the desire of all our hearts? To have someone we can be real and honest with, who can see us at our best and our worst and still love and accept us? When we begin seeing displays of emotionless as a power struggle or sign of disrespect but instead as a cry for love and a door to connection then we can address them in a way that draws our teens in instead of pushing them further away.
We have to come to the point where we accept and allow ourselves (and our kids!) to feel all the things. The happy good, feelings. The scary, overwhelming feelings. The sad, angry, anxious, and uncomfortable feelings. By focusing on becoming aware of our own emotions, we are able to have more empathy and compassion for our kids’ emotions. Allowing ourselves to feel freely and openly will give us an idea of how to respond to our kids when their emotions take over (it’s the good ol’ “treat others how you want to be treated” rule!) We need to learn to recognize, allow, and express our own feelings so we can focus on modeling healthy ways for our kids to express theirs too.
Emotions that are left pent up only build on each other and create resentment and disconnection. Humans are wired to feel because feelings indicate something is wrong. When our check engine light comes on in the car, we don’t just turn off the light and hope for the best. Emotions are the check-engine light of our hearts. If we turn off the light because it is annoying or inconvenient but we don’t do the work to discover the issue, we are putting ourselves at risk for a far more serious problem. This is true for digging deep in ourselves and addressing our own feelings as well as putting in the work to walk with our kids through theirs.
None of us are meant to do life alone, and this is especially true during difficult seasons of life. Raising a teenager is HARD. Trying to find ways to connect, handling their mood swings, learning to let them go a little, figuring out the balance between boundaries and independence, it is all too much to bear on our own! As scary as it is to find a place where we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, it is even scarier to try and face these years feeling isolated. Trust me, you are NOT alone in any of the struggles you or your teen have faced. Find a place where other moms can rally behind you and be a safe place for you to share your thoughts and struggles. There is power in connection and realizing that others are going through this with you.
There’s no quick, easy, or “one size fits all” solution to raising our teens, particularly when it comes to the wild ride of their ever-changing feelings. It’s all easier said than done, but in time as we reframe and reshape how we view and deal with emotions we will begin to discover the blessing behind them. I believe on the other side, we will find we can learn just as much from our turbulent teens as they are learning from us. And one day we will look back on these crazy days with a smile knowing that the sullen moods, the quick-to-fall tears, the angry remarks, they all brought us into a stronger and deeper connection with the people we care about the most. They brought us into a place where we found a more real, raw, honest, accepting, and unconditional love. And I can’t think of a greater blessing than that.