As soon as my second daughter was born just two years and one month after my first, people wouldn’t stop warning me.
“Oh my god! Just wait until they are teens!”
“Two girl teenagers in the house. I pity you already.”
“Poor you…boys are so much easier.”
“Oh no wait until you are all menstrual!”
“I would much prefer boys!” (This was truly said.)
Over and over again, these were the mantras I heard. Sometimes it was said in front of the girls, sometimes just in secret little whispers to me—confiding like.
I worried. I believed my girls would change and become people they never were. Would they switch from this sweetness of long limbs, glasses, reading books and enthusiasiasm about small treats like ice-cream into something unrecognizable and dreaded?
I find teens the most tender, the most open-hearted, authentic creatures ever. They are in their life in the most real way.
Discovering the craziness of the world and the joy. Finding beauty and self. Getting cold when they wear no scarf and no socks—and feeling it! Driving too fast sometimes and scaring themselves. Finding love. Finding friendship—feeling pain. Hiding the vulnerability.
Oh…I had days of exasperation and panic. I was sure I had ruined them. And, yep, we all did bleed the same days. Sigh. But I was taught well by my girls and my instinctual husband. He was a nurtured child and is a naturally nurturing man. Oh the girls love him!
Here are some of my insights—not new, but epiphanies for me.
1. Connect and reconnect.
Always connect. Teens crave connection; they want to be embraced by the family, even when they don’t act like they do. So even if the door is closed, I bet a soft knock will open it. Make sure that they know you are always available. And be always available. Make time and connect—deeply. Bring steaming tea with cream.
2. Feed the Bears!
Low blood sugar happens super quickly in these growing bodies. They aren’t even aware of it. They may vehemently deny it. (Mom! My emotions aren’t always a result of low blood sugar…. ) They are right, and feed them anyway.
3. Just listen.
I’ve been told too many times; they need me to just listen, so they can vent. Don’t interject too much, don’t help, don’t offer advice or be outraged. Just listen and validate. (and feed them) It helps to be heard. Often, I notice, they come to the same conclusions I am dying to point out to them. My tongue is bloody. Takes a lot of patience to not point out what I am desperate to.
4. Trust them to make mistakes.
Now, this is my hardest and most dearest. I struggle with this. I am not good at this, I am uncomfortably overprotective. I’m still trying.
5. Give them freedom.
(At this point my daughters will check to make sure this is being written by their mom. They thought it was, but now may not be so sure.) Not too much, of course. Have limits, but this goes hand in hand with trust. Let them try new things. Trust them to mess it up too. It’s ok. Really. (Obviously I am speaking of things within reason and not dangerous.)
6. Clear expectations.
I believe in curfews and rules. I always have. Boundaries. Firm ones yet negotiable. I have always had the experience that if there is mutual respect and love and rationale, they will stick with them. But it goes both ways, right? Freedom and boundaries. Not one without the other.
7. Own your fear.
I felt like my older daughter and I had a huge breakthrough when I was able to explain how helpful it was for my own anxiety levels when she texted me and let me know (always) where she was and that she had arrived safely. Until she realized that it helped me, she protested. I trusted her, yet I worried myself into an unhealthy state sometimes. When I explained that check-in texts or calls relaxed me, she also realized that it allowed more freedom for her. Win-win.
8. Talk openly.
Here I wasn’t so good. Really. It’s ironic. I have spent hours of my life counseling teens about healthy sexuality in our clinic, in the High Schools, even in the Middle Schools. I’ve been able to do it and really enjoy it. Yet I had so much fear that my own girls would make poor choices or be hurt that I infused too much fear into my talks with them. Luckily my oldest is a strong-minded, intelligent young feminist and my younger is too—plus, she has her older sister! (And I am getting better at it!)
9. Say No.
If you are uncomfortable with a plan. If you don’t like how you are being talked to. Really, it is ok to say No. Trust your instincts—explore them. Double check if you need to. Say yes too, but don’t be afraid to say no.
10. Consciously speak.
Remember—your voice becomes their inner voice. Use this to protect them and to love them. Say only what you want them to say to themselves.
Love those teens! And next time you meet one connect! Don’t you remember how desperate you felt for that when you were teen? Give this gift. And you may never know how you touched her.
Like elephant family on Facebook.
Ed: Dana Gornall