Yep, you see I’ve spent most of my adult life working with teenagers. When I was looking at raising littles I realized I was out of my league. I knew what to do with a teenager, but had no idea what to do with a baby. The age that most people dread seems most familiar to me and sits within my comfort zone. Even though I have become more familiar with the baby stage now with a 4 ½ year old little boy and a 6 month old daughter, it got me thinking. I’ve realized that teens get a bad rap. They really aren’t that hard to raise.
Now before you start throwing things at me, hear me out. If you are freaked about the teen years you may be missing out on a great stage that could be a true blessing. Below are 7 things I’ve learned that may help the dreaded teen years be a dream.
1. Get some rest
Let’s face it, you’re tired! By the time your precious angel has reached puberty, you have been sleep deprived for far too long! When your kiddo enters junior high you’ve made over 1,400 lunches, said “no” over 47,000 times and been to the doctor’s office well over 150 times. Let’s not forget the number of scraped knees you’ve doctored, broken hearts you’ve mended, temper tantrums you experienced, late nights you’ve endured through stomach bugs, fevers, colds and viruses.
Being a mom is the hardest job out there and after 13 years of service you are wiped out! You are the marathon runner who’s hit the wall and is waiting for that finish line to get your last bit of adrenaline necessary to preserve. A little change of perspective and rest and you will see you got this. A strong finish is well in your future!
2. See the Toddler/Teen Connection
It wasn’t until I entered toddler territory with my son that a lightbulb went off, “oh,” I realized, “this is just like a teenager.” Toddler years are about learning how things work, cause and effect, discovering who they are within the context of family, learning how they connect in the outside world and building self-esteem to go out into the world as they begin school. Toddlers need space to make mistakes and learn, but they also need you right there to run in when it gets too hard.
Teenagers are similar except this time they are trying to see how they fit in the world as an individual unit. It’s almost like a reboot of their system because things they once knew must be relearned in a new context. They know where they fit in the family and now need to know where they fit outside the family system. They are looking at other adults, other families to see how their family measures up.
A lot of parent frustration I hear during the junior high and high school years, are that their kids should know certain behaviors already, but the truth is with the new questions in this stage, they don't. They don't need the judgment, but instead need the room to learn just like you gave them in their toddler years. Parents aren't done yet, they still need to be there to run in when needed.
3. Push the Pause Button on Your Memories
You will never forget that day you laid eyes on your baby. Maybe you had suffered hours of labor or persisted through a lengthy adoption process, but regardless of how you got them, you were there and those memories will never leave you. You may be wondering what this fact has to do with anything in relation to your teen? It has a lot to do with them. I look at my 4 year old and can’t believe he’s in preschool and no longer a baby in my arms weighing in at 8lbs, 10oz. They grow up so fast and it’s hard not to have that baby photo engrained in your head, but the teen years are for becoming an adult and that means separating from the baby you still see when you look in their eyes. They are ready to explore the world around them and they need to spread their wings so they can eventually leave the nest. That takes focus from you at what is ahead. Regardless of their words, they need you now more than ever.
4. Make Room for a New Relationship
In some ways this is very similar to number 3. You know your child better than anyone and that fact is a true asset, but you also need to keep it from being a liability. The history and relationship you’ve built can limit your ability to look beyond the child and see a future adult. They need you to help them make room for the new relationship they will one day have with you as an adult. It’s a work in progress, but as they test out the boundaries of who they are they need you to allow them some space to discover themselves beyond your knowledge of them. It’s not always about the result but sometimes building self-confidence in the journey. This is a hard transition but a necessary one. You can do it together!
5. Have a Life Line
I made a major mistake with my youngest stepdaughter when my husband and I got married 10 years ago. She was 14 and I had been her youth pastor, but when we married my cool youth pastor persona was kicked to the curb and I was given the "oh my gosh, please don't do that" mom role. One particular occurrence sticks in my mind when we were in the car and I was dancing to the music on the radio and was given the look. I asked what the issue was, after all, we had enacting this exact scenario with a great deal of fun in the past, but she informed me, I was no longer allowed to do so as her step mom.
During those years she developed a friendship with a wonderful woman in our church. I trusted this woman to steer her in a good direction, but I got jealous. I had a knee jerk response and scared off this woman of God and their relationship suffered as a result. I know I'm not alone because I have been on the receiving end. I've seen moms get jealous when I've gotten close to their daughters resulting in limited interaction. The truth is that is a HUGE mistake.
Your kids are always watching and listening to you, even if they do everything they can to make you think they aren't, but in the teen years, they need someone else. Up until now they've learned who they are in the family, but now they want to see who they are as a person and developing a friendship with a trusted adult is important. Now with that said, we do still have to be careful, because we still have to protect our children and we want to make sure that person is in fact supporting our child and encouraging the values we have. It might be a good idea to sit down with them without kids present and discuss what you've seen develop and how you would like to see things progress. A good candidate is someone who is there for kids but backing you up.
6. Get a Life
If you don’t know by now, your kids are watching you. They most likely model what you do not what you say to do. You are their prototype. Up until now, they have been your life. You may work outside the home, but most likely regardless of family details you are the one that takes them where they need to go, goes to their events, gets what they need at the store and provides the meals they eat.
Now as they are seeking space and doing more apart from you, you can do the same. I am not promoting busyness that will keep you away all the time, but instead something else to put your focus. Maybe it’s a hobby or spending more time with your spouse or both! Regardless, you need to show your kids that you are a whole person. You have interests and abilities that go beyond “mom.”
7. Give What You Want To Get
It’s easy to talk down to our kids. We’ve spent years training them on how to do pretty much everything and while our training goes on, by now they know most of the rules. It’s just navigating through them as an individual. What they need most is love, respect and a sounding board. Its not fair to patronize them and treat them like children then expect mature respect in response. They need to explore the possibilities and the best way that can happen is if they are heard.
They are learning to be their own person and when its all said and done that is who they need to be. It may not line up with who you wanted them to be, but that isn't your decision it is theirs. That doesn't mean you cancel house rules and create chaos, in fact some of their direction may be something that can't be explored fully until they are out of your house. The day will come when they do walk out of your doors into a life all their own and how you walk it out now will have a major impact on the path they walk in the future. Don’t quit loving on them, praying for and with them and just being there. Isn’t that what you need as well? It’s a relationship after all.
When it’s all said and done being a mom is hard work! You may have regrets or fear if you made a mistake doing it your way, but you can’t change those things now. You can keep going and enjoy the journey of motherhood because before you know it, your days with your kids at home will be gone. Embrace each season and know they are all wonderful times to invest in and experience your kids.