If I Knew Then What I Know Now:  Reflections From A Mom Who Survived Raising Teens

Think back to your teenage years. If you knew then what you now know, what would you have done differently? What about your college years? Early parenting? As we get older and experience more of life, we all have things we look back on and wish we would have changed. Unfortunately, life has no rewind button, and we can’t change the past. But we CAN learn from the experiences of others who have been down that road before. As someone whose kids are already past the teenage years, here are a few things I learned along the way. Maybe they can help you in the now.

Don’t get trapped in ‘What-ifs”

Wishful thinking or comparison leads to discontentment, and unmet expectations breed resentment. When it comes to parenting, there are so many ideas we have going into it. We have dreams of what kind of mom we will be, what our children will be like, and how our family will look. More often than not, the reality is nothing like we dreamed (mostly because I never dreamed of the rancid odor that comes from a car full of 15-year-old boys after baseball practice or the stabbing pain of losing my cool with my teen and them spouting off a vengeful “You’re the worst mom ever!”) 

Even when it seems impossible to find something good in our reality, we need to ditch holding to the fantasy life we always wanted. This means loving and accepting who your kid is and not clinging to who you want them to be. It means forgiving yourself and releasing the mom guilt that suffocates your heart. It means stopping yourself in your tracks when you find yourself comparing your kid or life to someone else’s. Find contentment in the life you live, accept the mother you are, and celebrate the teen you have. Every life has beauty, every mom is worthy, and every teen is brilliant in their own way. We do ourselves and our kids a disservice when we constantly compare them to the version we wish existed.

Let go of what you can’t control

Up to this point, we have felt relatively in control of our kids’ lives. They relied on us for everything. But as our kids get older, the elements of their life that we can control lessen. When my eldest daughter was a teen, I was so fearful of her decisions. I would fret any time she didn’t turn in her homework or panic if she began drifting towards a friend I disapproved of. If I could go back and choose one thing I changed from raising her, it would be letting go of that fear. I’d trust her processes more.  I’d lessen my grip and give her a little more freedom (with reasonable boundaries!), and I would listen more to what she felt she needed. 

Recently we were traveling as a family when I noticed my husband carrying everyone’s suitcases. I reminded him, “Honey, you don’t have to carry all that anymore. Let our kids carry their own “stuff.” We can take that same advice and apply it to our kids. We don’t need to control every aspect of their lives. It is their life. They are capable of bearing the load of some of their own “stuff” now. 

Listen, listen, listen

I can never overemphasize the importance and power of listening to our kids. It is one of the hardest things to just shut up and listen, especially when we feel like we are full of advice that could solve their problems. Listening shows our kids that they are loved, respected, valued, important, and heard. There is no greater gift that we could give to our children than the gift of truly listening to them. It is the key to improving and keeping a solid relationship with your teen. I’ve been a slow learner on this one, but it has been the most valuable lesson of all. 

Check your own attitude before getting mad at theirs.

I can’t tell you how often parents come to me wanting to fix their kids. I totally get it. I’ve done the same thing. Our kids’ attitudes and behaviors can be mind-boggling, terrifying, and infuriating. But one thing I learned while raising my kids is that when I stopped and looked at my own heart first there was a higher chance of positive change in my kids too. Instead of blowing up and telling your kid everything they’ve done wrong, first look at yourself and honestly ask

  • “What am I feeling? What’s going on with me?”
  • “Am I open to seeing myself accurately and realizing how I play a part in this conflict?”
  • “What can I learn about myself from this?”
  • “How might I need to grow and what may I need to learn so I can respond and communicate in more effective ways?”

Every relationship consists of two people, and in no relationship is one person always right. This even includes our relationship with our kids. It takes true humility to be willing to examine ourselves and admit our own mistakes, but it does wonders to build a relationship.  

Laugh. A lot. 

Laughter is perhaps one of the most bonding things for our fun-loving adolescents. Kids have the unique ability to see laughter in more places than we do. It commonly comes in the ordinary and everyday moments, and often in the mistakes and mess-ups. If we can relax and learn to join them in laughing at ourselves, our mistakes, or the dog throwing up green icing all over the white rug, we unlock a precious moment of connection with our kids. These moments of laughter and bonding create memories that will be cherished forever by you both. More fun, more laughter, and a lighter outlook on the world improve everyone’s quality of life.

We are all learning, and every day is a new chance to improve something over the day before. Perhaps you can learn from some of my hard-earned (and often painful!) lessons and do things differently.  

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