Parenting Teens: It Should Be Easy, Right?
Confession: I thought I rocked at parenting. I handled the terrible twos and fearsome threes, conquered toilet-training, and trekked to the library and countless kids’ museums. I helped my daughters find their passion through sports, theater, martial arts, and vacation Bible school. I listened, cuddled, and disciplined with fairness and grace. I screwed up, and I bounced back.
Other parents liked my kids. Other parents sought my advice. In a challenging environment, I sought to raise strong and compassionate daughters. My kids were the poster children for Why I Rock at Parenting. Seriously. And the piece de resistance? My dad – arguably the finest father the world has ever seen – once told me that I was the best mom ever. I mean, seriously.
As you might have guessed, this fairy tale is about to take a hard turn.
As my older daughter blew out the candles for her 13th birthday two years ago, I was feeling pretty groovy. After all, I’d already done the hard work. Now, I thought, I just have to be a kind of hip YodaMom: parcelling out wisdom, maintaining curfews, and providing encouragement. And, ummm, also? I’ve been teaching adolescents for twenty years. Teens are my people. But – just in case my track record, experience, and confidence were not enough, I read some parenting books in preparation. Being a mom to teenagers? Piece of cake. I. Have. Got. This.
Until – one day, shortly after those candles blew out, I realized I absolutely did not have it. And fast forward: I now have two teenage beings in my home. And while everyone jokes that teens are tough, I did not know that it was true with a capital T. Parenting teenagers is hard. Really, really hard. And it can be lonely. Really, really lonely.
The fact is: everyone is eager to help you with a newborn. In fact, if you Google “tips for new moms” and then “tips for moms of teens,” there are ONE BILLION more “new mom” sites – featuring stock photos of adorable toothless babies being held by adoring moms – prepared to help you with crib choice, cradle cap, and diaper selection. That discrepancy is not even hyberbolic: “mom of a 15-year-old” will find 1,074,000,000 fewer hits – featuring photos of angsty teens looking at phones and/or teens screaming at an adult) on how to help parents negotiate raging hormones, the social media abyss, and peer pressure.
When you’re a new mom, you seek advice because you’ve never been a mom before. You have lots of questions: you make lists, you read books, you seek answers. It makes total sense that you need help and support. But parents of teens? Shouldn’t we know what we’re doing by now? After all, haven’t we been parenting for the last 13+ years? By seeking help, are we admitting that we really didn’t know how to do the very job we have had for more than a decade?
I confess all of my failure and angst to you not to discourage you, but to make you strong.
The scary truth is: I don’t know what I’m doing. Whereas I once felt confident as the mom of preschoolers, I now second-guess the decisions I make as the mom of teens. Whereas I successfully negotiated a myriad of stand-offs with my three-year old who, say, wanted to only eat popsicles for every meal, I find myself failing as that same child haggles for more Snapchat time or money for Starbucks.
I swear: their nutty hormones seem to stir up my nutty hormones. I make rash parenting decisions that I regret. I give in when I should stand firm.
It’s humbling to admit that being a parent of teenagers is an impossible job. As soon as you facedown one parenting challenge, another problem lingers impatiently in the wings. And it’s true: bigger kids, bigger problems.
I know that being a parent to kids at any age can be simultaneously amazing and exhausting. And while I may have been physically exhausted ten years ago from chasing my kids around the playground, I am now mentally and emotionally exhausted living with the mercurial moods of my lovely – horrible – amazing – terrible – hilarious – ridiculous teens. They rage, they slam doors, their beautiful eyes transform into evil daggers. They hug, they dance in the kitchen, they help without asking, they rub your back. They are rays of sunshine; they are storms of discontent.
It’s not unusual for me to schedule my ENTIRE weekend shuttling my daughters to their games/practices/parties/, running to Target to pick up something they need for school, and hitting TJ Maxx for a birthday gift for one of their friends — and then have my child meltdown when we get home because “Mom, you never do what I want to do!”
It’s not unusual for my child to want to shut herself in her room to Snapchat or TikTok or Instagram and look seriously offended when I dare to ask her about homework or tell her it’s time for dinner. This same child will see me writing or grading or reading a book, and uninvitedly flop on my lap to sincerely regale me with inane and crazy details about a YouTuber or friend drama or a Broadway star. It’s like spinning the wheel of Russian Roulette if I risk saying, “Hey. I want to hear this, but can you give me a minute to finish this paragraph?” Her unpredictable response will fall somewhere on the “Ugh. Why do you hate me?” to “No problem, Mom-but then can we get fro yo?” spectrum.
I confess all of my failure and angst to you not to discourage you, but to make you strong. You are not alone. Don’t beat yourself as you fall into the Facebook trap when you see the status stream where “Everything is Grand and My Kids are Perfect.” No one’s teen is perfect. Teens are meant to be a bit of a disaster as they make the arduous and painful transformation from child to adult. Difficult teens are normal teens.
Can we accept that it is the job of teens to separate from us? That we are actually being good parents when we allow them to distance themselves, make questionable choices, and fail. That we are being good parents even we they are telling us how horrible and unfair we are. That we are being good parents as we lie in bed and pray for grace to make it through these next years.
Most of all, we are being good parents when we say to other parents of teens, “This is hard work. I need your support. Help me.” Realize that none of us really know what we are doing, but at least we can struggle through this together. Together, we are stronger. Together, we are better. You are not alone.