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Parenting Teens Is Not How I Thought It Would Be

Years ago, our family planned a camping trip that was our first one in a very long time.  We prepared, we packed, and we drove.  When we arrived at the campground, we unloaded, we unpacked, we set up.  Then it rained – profusely –  for two days.

It was certainly not what we imagined the weekend to look like, but it turned out fine.  It was certainly not as nice as it could have been, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

I try to remember this when it comes to those moments in parenting that go off-script.

When we look forward to something, we often create pictures in our minds of how it’s going to be.  We play it out in our imagination.  We replay it until we have it planned out perfectly. 

When we’re raising teenagers, the pictures in our minds often look quite different when they are played out in real life.  As a high school teacher, I see this often: even the best laid-out plans can be shifted in a moment when you’re working with this age group. As a mother of a teen, I am learning that my best plans and greatest intentions can easily be sidelined at any time in this season of parenting. Parenting teens is not how I thought it would be. And let’s be honest… There can be a lot of emotions involved when these unexpected shifts occur.  

As parents, how do we adjust when our teens throw us off course?  

Part of the difficulty in adjusting our plans and expectations is that they are often so solidified in our minds.  There is a joy that comes when we anticipate the time we’ll be spending with our teens; there is an enthusiastic buzz when we have some special event around the corner to look forward to.  There is an energy that comes with planning the details of the time we’ll enjoy with our family.

However, just like when the camping trip is rained out, our best laid-out plans with our teens can get detoured by so many things.  Our teens may not want to spend that time with us.  Our kids may have other distractions. They can have mood swings and attitudes and issues that hit us in unpredictable ways. Our expectations for ourselves as parents can change dramatically as we find ourselves wrestling with how to manage it all. Our teenagers may be more complicated than we realize.  How can we adjust our thinking to appreciate (or at least not be thrown by) these detours in our parenting plans?

Years ago, I was walking out of a coffee shop and saw this sign displayed on the sidewalk:  “Take each moment as it is, not as you think it should be.”  I walked by, latte in hand, and thought more about those words: As you think it should be. That can be at the heart of our thinking so often.  

Most of us do this. How can we allow some wiggle room when parenting teens?

Allowing some wiggle room means realizing we must adapt to a situation that didn’t work out as planned. And this is a great lesson to teach our kids.  These things happen often in life; how can we adjust in a useful way?  Cold weather on prom night, cleats forgotten at home on game day, a friend who cancels at the last minute: these are the mishaps that life places in our teenagers’ paths at times.  It’s what they do next that matters.

But this lesson is more for ourselves as parents.  Raising teenagers can be tough, and things certainly don’t always go as planned.  We may have formed certain expectations for our children and then question when those expectations are not met in the way we pictured.  It sometimes seems that just when we think we have this phase of parenting figured out, our children change and become someone else: an older teenager with older teenage concerns.  This can be hard on parents, and certainly, it can be hard on our teens, too.  

Perhaps this season of parenting is all about meeting our teenagers where they are.  If we approach them – and their changing struggles – with flexibility and understanding, we can get closer to truly understanding them.  When I think about our camping trip in the rain, it reminds me that these years of parenting are just like that trip: unpredictable and stressful at times, and yet we can also make them memorable and meaningful.

Parenting teens requires flexibility and acceptance as our kids grow up and face so many challenges- we will have to change our expectations and pre-conceived agendas. Perhaps the first step is simply acknowledging that this is hard to do.  As parents, we can work on it, but at the end of the day, we might just have to allow ourselves some grace. We may not get it right all the time, and it can be tough to know when to set limits and when to patiently adapt to our kid’s ever-changing behaviors and needs. 

It’s worth working on, though.  I don’t want to miss out on doing all I can to build a good relationship with my teen because I’m caught up in my own version of how things should be. I will expect the unexpected because this is how it goes with parenting teens.

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