Parenting is a different experience for each of the adults involved in a family system and exquisitely unique, depending on the child involved.
Every child is different, so hard and fast parenting guidelines do not always apply.
No one lovingly gazes down at their precious newborn baby and murmurs to themselves, “I wonder how many times that perfectly formed, delicate little finger will be flipping me off in the future…”
Looking back on when my older kids were teens—those years were some of the most challenging times in my life. I’m frequently reminded of this by my clients and when Mr. Eleven rears a dose of prepubescent sarcasm. And for those of us trying to live compassionate and mindful lives, while attempting to rear kids with similar qualities, (who are also critical thinkers), the challenge is even greater.
How do we gently lead in our households and try to preserve a flavor of democracy, while being clear that some behaviors are not always acceptable. While this challenge can actually be fun with younger children (did I just say that?), with teens, the terrain can sometimes resemble a battlefield.
Let’s briefly look at a few truths that underlie the experience of parenting teens, with the hope that they provide you with a bit of a normalizing foundation to use to build your “foxhole” for those trying years.
1. The teenager’s developmental task is to separate from their parents so they can be comfortable moving away from them. Look at the angst, the eye-rolls, and the sarcasm, as a reminder that their wings are sprouting so that they will successfully fly away—and so that you’ll be ready to wave good-bye. Unfortunately, with hormones raging and the influence of the world around them, conflict has traditionally been a core ingredient of this burgeoning display of independence.
Suggestion? Talk openly about this developmental dynamic and strategize ways that your teen can have growing independence as they show increasingly responsible and respectful behavior.
For example: “It wouldn’t be responsible for us to facilitate you getting your driver’s license when you’ve come home with alcohol on your breath. Let’s decide how we can proceed in a way that makes some logical sense and you can get more freedom, while we are assured you are mature enough to keep yourself safe.” While this is an overly-simplistic and more obvious issue that every teen may not be dealing with, you easily get the flavor of how these conversations need to be based in logic that the teen can’t really argue with. I have done entire workshops on this topic and it is basically the root of how we negotiated the teen years—this paragraph is but a tiny seed planted.
2. Prepare your protective gear. Proactivity is the key here. Assume that during the teen years the sarcastic shrapnel will fly. Expect it, then be pleasantly surprised when it does not occur. Again, it’s a developmental task at this age. Create your protective energetic space. Physically take refuge if you need to walk away or proactively seek safety for your tender heart. After all, we know it’s just not rational practice to stand naked in the line of fire. And, do not take the hurtful words personally.
3. Ask questions. Refrain from always “telling.” Ask why they made the choice they did and what they think about it. Ask what they think a responsible response would be from you, as a parent. Sometimes, the answers will surprise you. There were times that my kids were much harder on themselves than I would have been, but by having that dialogue, it let us see just how seriously they were considering their actions.
4. Practice radical self-care for you and your relationship. This is no time to go down with the ship—as many brave souls and marriages/partnerships have gone before you. I know it feels like there is just no time when you are running a taxi service and juggling fire balls, but remember: you are giving your children an invaluable gift when you model making your spiritual-mind-body health and relationship a priority. Do it. And work toward doing it guiltlessly.
5. Use your language to insert positive intentions, as appropriate, on a day to day basis. Think of it as a little (organic) Miracle Grow on their sprouted wings. Speak of the day when your teens are successfully out on their own and on their next journey—be it attending university or travelling for a gap year (just refrain from inserting “living in the basement and smoking bongs” in this space).
From the earliest years, we voiced an expectation that when the kids graduated high school they would either be out continuing their education or working enough to fund independent living, and a “norm” was created.
6. Feed your commonalities. Music lovers? Listen together in the car. Go to concerts. Movie aficionados? Create special times for viewing together and pop some special popcorn—our fave is kettle corn or with nutritional yeast. The older kids still ask for it. As they mature, start sharing some of the more edgy, mature movies you loved that they weren’t mature enough for earlier. And of course, try to come up with activities in nature. And if they are reluctant to go out on that hike with you—encourage them to bring a friend. Chances are that friend is really polite to you in your child’s company and, hey, they may even like you—which sets up a great dynamic for your child to see that maybe their parents aren’t as atrocious as they were thinking. It can truly be a case of “the more the merrier.”
7. Love. Energetically (and vocally) keep the flow of love going. Set your intention to parent from a place of serving the greater good for your child and the world at large. During these times, the necessary actions, such as setting appropriate boundaries, don’t always feel as compassionate as we’d like—keeping your overriding intention clean can help you guide your kids.
Yes, this is but a small piece of the parenting pie during what is developmentally defined as a trying time, but by keeping our perspective and repeating that ever-helpful parenting mantra “this too shall pass,” our reward will be lovely relationships with our creative and critical thinking young adult children.
Author: Becky-Aud Jennison
Editor: Catherine Monkman