When I entered the gates of motherhood, I felt confident in my ability to conquer this new parenting quest with grace, ease, and well-behaved children. Although there were a few unexpected twists and turns along the way, I found myself sailing through the first half of parenthood with minimal disasters. Of course, there were times I lost my patience after a sleepless night or struggled to get control of my tantrumming toddler in the grocery store, but all in all, I felt like a pretty good mom. People occasionally threw out the “Just wait until they are teenagers…” warning, but I just let it roll off my back. Teen years? Hard? Nope. Not my kids! We had put in all the hard work and the worst years were certainly behind us! From here on out it would be smooth sailing as I transitioned from authority figure to friend and watched my beautiful, responsible, cooperative, respectful children soar!
And then my daughter turned 13. The fantasy of my easy-peasy calm-and-collected parenting teens experience toppled around me, leaving pieces of my heart shattered on the floor with my confidence. Absolutely nothing prepares you for raising teens. No matter how many people try and “warn” you, how many parenting books you read, or how well you felt you were doing as a mom before this milestone, this new stage leaves you absolutely breathless, drained and defeated.
There is no way to anticipate the gut-wrenching hurt of your nearly grown child slipping out of your fingers. When they cringe when you try and give them a hug or roll their eyes when you belt out what used to be their favorite song to sing with you in the car. It leaves a deeper ache in your soul than you have ever felt when instead of walking in and being greeted by a chorus of “Mommy’s home, mommy’s home!” and little arms encircling your legs you walk through the door and are met with a sullen silence. Yes, these teen years shred our mama hearts in a way that is simply unfathomable until you are living it.
And the worry? The crippling anxiety that keeps you up all night as you fear for your child’s future may not be new but the teen years intensify it. You no longer stay up worrying over things like potty training techniques or t-ball practice schedules, now you are paralyzed by wondering if your child is making wise choices. Are they safe? Did they remember to buckle their seat belt and are they staying off their phones while they drive? Did I embolden them enough to say no to drugs and alcohol? Are they choosing healthy relationships? They seem so alone, are they struggling with depression? The constant stream of what-ifs is never-ending.
Don’t even get me started on the attitudes and hormones. There are too many moods in a day to keep track of them all, and you wouldn’t know how you were “supposed” to respond to each one even if you could anticipate what would be next. Everything you do is wrong or annoying in their eyes. You know they need boundaries, and you try your best to set reasonable ones, but each one is met with pushback and anger, and hurtful words. Shouldn’t they be old enough to know that rules are for their own good by now? Except they don’t seem to think the rules apply to them. Between the tears and the arguments and the fits and the silent treatment, everyone is left as a little puddle of exhaustion in the midst of this hormonal hurricane.
To top it all off, these are the loneliest years of parenting. Everyone is so busy running from here and there and from this concert to that practice that there is simply no time for mom groups or play dates anymore. Not that you could even share what was going on if there was because you would fear ruining your kid’s trust or you are too embarrassed by the real issues to ever tell someone else.
Parenting teens is hard, lonely, heart-bending, isolating work. It is an impossible job that not one of us feels qualified for. But know this, fellow mama, you are not alone. We may not talk about it, but each of us is struggling alongside you. There is no problem, argument, fear, or heartbreak that hasn’t been felt by a multitude of other moms just like you. None of us know what we are doing, none of us are perfect or have perfect kids, and all of us feel like we are failing. Parenting teens is messy and confusing. I wasn’t prepared for just how hard this season of life would be, but I am holding on tight and knowing that our kids are worth every difficult moment.