Observations about parenting teens…

The other night I spent some time talking with a friend. She’s raising a 14-year-old. Enough said. I was not particularly well-suited to raising kids. They are loud, opinionated, and often difficult. My three demanded all I had… and then some. We survived, but it hurt and I can still feel the bumps and bruises of the past few years. I did learn some things along the way that I am always happy to pass on. Just remember to take everything people have to say about parenting with a grain of salt. There is no simple formula for raising decent humans. We all do the best we can with what we have. In the interest of charity, here are a couple of observations…

I noticed that the process of raising teens was much more attached to my own childhood than I was prepared for. One day I was raising a delightful child, the next I was face to face with my own bad self as an adolescent. For those of us who stumbled through their teenaged years, barely scraping by, this was a daunting realization. I thought it would be different and I wasn’t sure how to handle the challenges.

It’s hard for everyone— When I was a teen I thought life was hard because we moved a lot because we lived on a Navy base, or because I was “chunky” as my mom put it. Raising three of my own children helped me see that the teen years are hard for everyone. Really hard. No one gets through unscathed. Not the skinny one, or the smart one, or the class clown. Growing to adulthood is a long painful process of transformation. There are long periods of awkwardness, ugly moods, and real angst. It is not all bad, I loved my house overflowing with teens. I think it’s like hanging out with baby lions. They are cute and cuddly one moment, and ready to eat you the next.

Kids want to be parented— When I was a teen, I was pretty sure I knew better than my parents in almost every area. Life has been a fine instructor in all of the ways my arrogance really didn’t serve me well. The truth is my kids really did need me to get in there and struggle with them. It was their job to pull the shenanigans, and mine to help them learn from them. It’s easy to believe we have no influence, mostly because their lives scream “you have no influence,” but the truth is we all want our parents to be proud of us, to understand us, to truly see us. It’s true when we are 47 and it’s true when we are 17.

Teens are allergic to control— When I say allergic, I mean I had one that went into the equivalent of anaphylactic shock when I tried to control her. When I am honest with myself, I realize this may be an inherited condition. I need to make my own decisions and deal with the consequences of them. I hate to be manipulated. As a parent, I often felt like I had no idea how to keep them safe, how to teach them what they needed to know, or how to help them navigate the crisis of the moment. In these times, it is easy to default to the closest lever of control. In our family, it rarely worked.

We developed a family motto… The only thing worse than living with    (fill in the blank)   is being    (fill in the blank)   .

This helped us leave room for compassion and grace. For me, the most daunting part of parenting teens was trusting that the relationships we had built would be strong enough to get us through. I felt like these relationships, built and reinforced over time, were my only hope at helping them navigate through turbulent times. So, I tried to build these up… with varying degrees of success. Now, with all of them in their twenties, those relationships are being reimagined, but the framework was built along time ago.

The most surprising thing about this process was that there seemed to always be two things happening at the same time. It was easy to focus on one or the other, but I did best when I separated the two things and dealt with them separately.

What was happening in their life: the growth, discovery, independence, and maturity; What was happening in my life: letting go, rewriting my own stories, dealing with my own anxiety and fear for them, and learning to manage my hopes and dreams for them.

I often say that parenting taught me more about myself and life in general than any other thing I’ve ever done. I am proud of the way our family navigated this transition from childhood to adulthood, and I am thrilled to enjoy who these people have become. But when I’m honest, it feels like we raised each other, because I grew just as much as they did through the process.

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