Let me begin by saying that there is the distinct possibility that I have absolutely no idea what I am talking about.
Lately, I have heard several people lamenting the approach of the teenage years in their families. This has gotten me thinking about our family's journey through the teenage years. My baby will be 14 on Wednesday and my big girl is 16 and driving! At this juncture, it is too soon to determine whether or not we will ultimately "survive" these years, whatever that means. Being mom to two teenage girls is stretching me in interesting ways...ways that are different than the earlier stages of this journey. With my youngest headed to high school next year, I have been thoughtful lately about what I am learning about this part of my journey; what have I learned up to this point about raising teenagers? What seems to be helpful so far and what is decidedly not working? I tease my oldest that she is my "practice" child and that hopefully I will get it right with her sister. :-)
So what have I learned so far about surviving the teenage years? Referring you back to the first sentence of this blog entry, here are a few of the things I am reminding myself along the way:
- Don't take IT personally! This one is something I remind myself frequently. "IT" in this case may refer to the tendency for them to prefer the company of their friends, their computers, the tv, their book, their cell phone, their music or the blank wall in front of them to your company. IT may also refer to the fact that one moment you appear to be reasonably intelligent, mildly amusing and somewhat resourceful and the next moment they look at you like they wonder how anyone so profoundly stupid can find their way downstairs in the morning. IT might refer to the eye-rolling, the selective hearing, the lip service, the monosyllabic responses and the mood swings. IT may be the sudden decision that they hate something they have always loved or now love something that they have always hated...particularly if it was your idea previously and is now their idea. Responding to IT logically and appropriately is much easier and, in my experience, much more successful when I am operating from a place of calm consideration as opposed to hurt feelings or a sense of personal attack. IT really isn't about the parent when it comes to teenage ups and downs. Which leads me to the second point.
- Remember what is developmentally appropriate for this age. When my oldest daughter was in 6th grade, we were sitting with some other parents talking about the onset of the teen years in our family. One very wise dad, whose youngest of 4 was also in 6th grade at the time, told me this: "Just remember, there is nothing in the world more self-centered than an 8th grade girl. If you remember that, you'll be fine. And don't worry, they do grow out of it." I cannot tell you how many times I have chanted that refrain to myself...my mantra for surviving the self involvement of the early teen years!! As I think back to my previous life as a counselor working with adolescents and their families, I remind myself that most of the things that frustrate me now as a parent are things that I know are a normal part of being a teenager. Establishing themselves as individuals, questioning the values of their parents, testing limits and boundaries, increasing concern about the opinions of their peers, wanting to spend more time alone or with their friends, trying on new or different identities...all of these things are an essential part of being a teenager and getting ready to leave home. And yes, leaving home is actually what we are preparing them to do at this stage, as painful as that sometimes seems for me. Educating yourself on adolescent development makes it much easier to heed the first suggestion above AND to know when we are dealing with something that is outside of the normal ups and downs.
- Remain playful! My husband is much better at this than I am, probably because he spends less time dealing with the task oriented aspects of parenting. I am finding recently that I often need to make a conscious decision to keep a moment light and playful with my girls. That sometimes means letting go of the opportunity to correct, guide or...ok, let's just call it what it is...lecture them about something that comes up in conversation. I find that the moments when they are completely unguarded and telling me about the details of their lives are simply not as frequent as they were when they were little. The absolute quickest way for me to shut down those moments is for me to jump on every "teachable" moment by problem solving, correcting, commenting on someone else's behavior or some other "mom" thing. I am learning to listen more when I get those precious moments of peeking inside the parts of their lives to which I am not always invited. When something comes up about which I feel it necessary to comment, I am more likely to do so in a playful way, than a lecturing way. For more on this, I refer you back to this post. Because our girls are so busy and we don't get the day to day time we used to get with them, we are much more likely to plan movie nights or dinners out together to intentionally have some time to play together. In our busy lives, and with their increased desire for time with their friends, we are choosing to make family play time a required activity on a regular basis. This sometimes means pulling them out of their other activities, but we are finding that it doesn't happen unless we make it a priority.
- Remember that they need me to be their parent, not their friend. Although we treasure our times of being playful and silly together and although we are choosing to pick our battles on every little eye roll or deep sigh from them, Steve and I are very clear that it is our job to set boundaries and limits. I could go off on a huge, judgmental rant about this, but it makes me sad how many parents of teenagers I see who have simply given up their job as parents. Our kids sometimes don't like us very much when we say NO to them, at least in the moment, and it would be easier sometimes to just let them do it their own way. Sometimes, when I have chosen to make a stand on a particular issue, the battle is exhausting. It is hard to stand firm under unrelenting badgering, bargaining, manipulating, pouting, stomping and tears. Yet, we know the stakes are high and it is worth it, even when it is not fun. It is our job to communicate what is acceptable. It is our choice to sometimes allow them a little room to push it a bit. It is also our obligation and responsibility to sometimes set a firm boundary that says "here is the line and there will be consequences if you choose to cross it." So far, when we give a firm no, I have not had a kid say "Thank you so much, Mom. I know you are setting that boundary because you love me. I so appreciate you making the effort to guide me and help me to become a responsible human being." Generally, it is something more along the line of "That's not fair!! Everybody else gets to..." I can't wait until they have teenagers of their own! :-)
- Pray first! This is not listed last because it is the least important, but because it is the one I need to hear the most. Pray first...before I react, before I respond, before I decide, before I erupt, before I get my feelings hurt, before I yell, before I open my mouth, before I choose not to speak, before I lay awake worrying, before I condemn myself or another. Pray first! While the other things I mentioned would likely be useful for anyone, this last one is the ace in the hole for the follower of Jesus. For a believer, prayer is our secret weapon. Better than any parenting book, prayer connects us with the ultimate source of wisdom, the antidote for worry, the path to peace. As I connect to my Source, I am reminded that He is ultimately their Source as well. Steve and I are not parenting these girls on our own. God has a plan for the lives of our girls; He is not just waiting for us to raise them and then He will take over. He knows what is best for them, and He really doesn't need my advice in determining their future (although I do have some pretty good ideas!) All that they experience during these years, both the good and the bad, is ultimately part of their journey with the Lord. I can confidently place them in His hands. Everyday, over and over again, I can surrender them to His care and ask His guidance in determining where I fit into the picture. Truly, I don't know how people parent without prayer!
Bottom line, I am loving this season of our family's journey. My girls are some of my favorite people in the world to be around. I love their sense of humor, their intellect, their hearts and their insights on the world around us. In all honesty, I found the baby stage of life to be really hard. I like a kid with whom I can have a conversation; even when it becomes something of a debate! Teenagers are, by nature, passionate and emotional; traits that I value in the adults with whom I choose to spend time. I love that my girls are so different. I like that they are growing and changing and trying on new aspects of their personality, almost as often as they try on new clothes at the mall. It makes me laugh that my little tomboy now spends hours straightening her hair and putting on makeup, but will also kick off her shoes in a heartbeat to race anyone who questions her speed. It makes me smile when my "sunshine and rainbows" girl tries on the newly skeptical and sardonic aspect of her personality. Yet, in spite of her experimentation with cynicism, she still just can't stay in a bad mood, no matter how hard she tries. I recently heard her describe herself as a "cynical optimist;" a perfect description of the polarity of adolescence.
Here's the hardest part of this stage for me: so far, I really don't want them to ever leave! As they enter high school, it seems like everything is a countdown to get them out the door. I can become really sad when I realize that we have less time left with either of them now then the time we had with them before they started Kindergarten. At least, in terms of the time left that they will be living in our house full-time. Realizing that I have so little time left is, however, something of a gift. This knowledge helps me in the sense that I am choosing to cherish this time, savor this time, enjoy every minute I have to spend with them...even on the days that I want to smack them!!
If you have raised adolescents or are currently in that season of your life, I would love to hear your top survival techniques. What works for you? What have you learned? All suggestions or insights are welcome!!