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Parenting through the teenage years

Parenting. It's hard. Ask any parent what age is the hardest to parent and I think they'll tell you whatever age their kid is at the time. First it was the terrible twos. Then it was the terrible threes. But seriously, I think it's the teenage years. Oh, but yes, that's because I have a teenage son. I think every parent is right. And those of us that change our mind on which year is the hardest are likely still on our first (or only) child. I believe it changes because we are experiencing being a parent at that age for the first time too. Our child is getting older, experiencing new things, learning new concepts, new ways to push their boundaries and gain their independence. So it makes sense that each year presents itself with new sets of challenges for us parents too.


But for real, y'all, it's the teen years. Stick with me and let me present my argument. Not only are they experiencing new things, learning new concepts, new ways to push their boundaries and gain their independence, but they can also do it with logic and a degree of debate that can make sense to you. Oh boy, that makes it tough. After all, I'm able to relate to my teen's age far more than I can a three year old. I mean, for the most part, I really can remember what it was like to be his age. At my deeper core level, I know he's pushing his boundaries because he's trying to come into his own individuality. He's learning to make his own choices, even if they aren't always the ones that he "should" choose. I know at my deeper level that he doesn't make the negative choices with the intention to upset me. He hasn't yet gained or fully formed that skill to connect all of his actions to others' feelings. So when I can come from a place of remembering that when he does upset me, or make me feel disregarded or disrespected, that it's not because that was his intention, but because he's still learning to be a teen. And I'm still learning to be the parent of a teen.


I remind him that while he is still learning to navigate new seasons of growing up, I am also learning alongside him how to parent through those seasons too. We all are. Even if it's your second, third or whatever number in your gaggle of children. That's because each child is different and unique in their own ways too. I'm sure you have a bit better of an idea how to trial and error (or fail forward as I like to call it) faster than when it was your first. But Caleb is my only child. And the "trial and error" thought freaks me out because it feels like I've got to get this right. There's no do-over when it comes to a human being. And again, I'm sure parents of gaggles of children can agree that there's no do-over because each child is different than another.


I often find myself in a space of total uncertainty of how to handle situations. When I think back, I realize that I have zero modeling for how to parent a teenager. When I was my son's current age of sixteen, I was living on my own. What started out as couch surfing at my friends' houses when I was thirteen soon turned into me moving in with my high school drop-out boyfriend at sixteen. My parents weren't involved in my everyday life and they certainly weren't there to catch me in the act of any of the wrongs I was doing or the bad habits I was creating. There were no sit down family meetings, no discussions, no consequences. I'm not even sure how that would have changed anything. Especially because I know I can't change that relationship and that wasn't the relationship we had. The only modeling I have is one that shows me a version that I don't want to be. I'm learning to accept that it's just who they are and they likely were doing the best they could, and neither of those things are a reflection of me or the love and parenting I deserved. Nonetheless, it doesn't make it any easier to decipher how to handle when your teenager is caught vaping or whatever the latest misbehavior is.


This is where grace for yourself comes in. Because how can you expect to know how to handle new situations that you haven't yet had to navigate on the parenting side yet. It's also a great time to use your empathy and curiosity skills. I can remember what it was like to be in his shoes. I can recognize that I likely would have adjusted my path sooner if someone was calling me out for it and exploring why I was engaging in that behavior in the first place. It's also time to acknowledge that it's okay to remind them that you're human too and that you can relate. No, I don't have to tell him all of my delinquent stories, but I can remind him that I'm not naive and give a small taste here and there to remind him that these are things that we all navigate a version of. For me, intuition is what leads me the most. Sometimes it's even my intuition that kicks off the discovery of the misbehavior in the first place. More importantly though, it's my intuition that I have to lead with when determining how to navigate the situation. There is no manual. There is a connection though between you and your child that can be unlike any other on the planet. There are little signs throughout your days. Little nuances that you pick up on. These are things that help feed your intuition even when you can't quite put your finger on something. There are the things that your Knowing grasps as truth even when your fear feels uncertain. For me, it feels undeniable that he's going to be okay. He's going to come out on the other side of his teenage years with strength and good character, despite these natural hiccups. When my son apologizes for his wrong doings, I am confident he does it genuinely even if he hasn't yet discovered how to consciously change the behavior every time the opportunity arises. I'm sure that some kids out there can really put on a good act. My son is not one of those kids. Don't mistake that sentence to mean that he doesn't lie, because he certainly will stick with a story until fully caught in it. Who knows, maybe one day he'll use that as a strength in another area of life.


When I struggle with trusting myself with decisions I make as a parent, I choose to lean in on that intuition. I choose to remind myself of all the amazing personality traits that my son shows me. I choose to also remain self-aware that a lot of my fears and concerns for this or that particular misbehavior will suddenly mean he'll go down a wrong path stems from my own baggage and life experiences. He is automatically not going to repeat my bad choices to that degree because he has something I didn't have. He has me. He has adult me that knows that teenage him needs guidance, accountability, forgiveness, grace and love. It doesn't mean I condone certain behaviors, but it's important that I make myself available to him so he has an outlet to be accepted and guided through these new experiences. It shows him I am present; that I see him. He is not ignored. He is important.


I also take these opportunities to model for him how to communicate my feelings too. Let me safely say that I did not always do this calmly! I have been known to put myself in a time-out in one corner of the kitchen and him in the other because it was clear I was getting far too overreactive and it was for both of our protection. Now, that was years ago and I've done a lot of therapy to help me with my communication skills thankfully, but needless to say, it wasn't always effective communication. It's important to me that when I discuss with my son the reasonings why I have cause for concern that I also share with him the effect that it has on me or those around him. I don't lay my burdens on him, but I let him know that even though I know he didn't do (insert any misbehavior here) intentionally to disrespect me, it still made me feel disrespected. Of course, you can replace disrespected with any emotion that you are feeling. Helping those I love see that we have the ability in our lives to make conscious choices and that those choices do have an effect on the world around us is important to me. Most importantly when it comes to the human I am responsible for raising. I trust that these nuggets are planting deep within him and along the way he'll develop his own inner voice that helps guide him. When my son tells me that he respects me more than anyone he knows and further supports that by acknowledging all that I have gone through to get to where I am, then not only do I believe him but I trust that I'm doing what I should be and should continue to model a behavior of authenticity, vulnerability and communication. I'm doing this the only way I know how.


It makes sense to me that the teen years are the hardest for me to parent. They are the years that I had the least parental guidance in my life. They are also the years that my baby is closest to being out from under my wing. It feels like pressure to get it right. After all, he's so close to having to do it on his own. Then I pause to remind myself that he'll not be doing it on his own because he has me. I am in his corner. Not to clean up the mess, but to be a guiding voice to sometimes help him see that he may be creating a mess, or has already created a mess, and then support him as he navigates how to adjust and move forward. We are all failing forward. Even our kids. It helps to remind ourselves that we have that in common. We have to address the issues as they arise but we also need to continue to look for the signs that we are winning as parents and that our kids are still winning as growing humans. Loving and comforting our kids and ourselves through these phases are certainly felt far more through these tough seasons than the easy stages. That's another form of modeling that we often forget in the rough seas, but they count and their impact can be much deeper than we may think. So keep going parents. Keep going. Embrace each season because this is an important job we were gifted.

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