We can have a picture of how we should be raising teenagers, and that picture will influence how we think and how we behave. Meet Mary, who has parented 3 teenagers. She considers herself "out the other end" now, and has been able to reflect on how she experienced it, and if it was necessarily how it needed to be...
"When I reflect on how it felt parenting my teens, well, to be honest, it felt distinctly like I was on a rollercoaster ride. One moment we had a good connection, a mixture of mature and insightful conversation, they were learning independence and we were ticking along nicely. Then, we reached a hump, and it was heated arguments, control, coercion, effort, expectations, rebellion, tears and lots of raging hormones. Theirs on the way up, mine on the way down… yep, a horrific rollercoaster ride.
Having got off the ‘rollercoaster ride’, I would say there was a lot of totally unnecessary ‘drama’.
I found the parenting skills needed in teenage years were more psychological than physical and much more about self-responsibility and mutual respect. I needed to let go of my need to be needed, to be recognised as their ‘mother’, to be listened to (in fact it was to be obeyed without question…) and wanting to feel wanted by them. All of that clearly felt very imposing and, well, meant I regularly:
Got unsolicited comments about my parenting skills
Found I was no longer the centre of their universe
Found they no longer wanted to hug or kiss me goodnight
Found they no longer hung on my every word
Found I frustrate them – just by looking at them!
Found they no longer felt my advice was ‘relevant’
Found I had been manipulated before I even knew it was happening
Noticed a sharp rise in the eye rolling from earth to heaven and back again
Had to ask a gazillion times for the chores to be done
Found I was suddenly someone to be denied in public so they rarely, if ever, came out with me and if they did, they walked at least 10 steps behind me.
It felt like a total ‘whaaaaambulance’ moment (you know the moment where you would quite like to lie on the floor and scream about the injustice and unfairness of it all, needing emergency services to come and rescue you…). But let’s be honest, it can be hurtful to be on the receiving end of all of that targeted criticism. I was hurt, and carried the hurt around for many moons, but it didn’t change anything. If anything, the indulgence in my Whaaaambulance moment made it worse because in my reaction I then went into not parenting much, letting go of all my boundaries and watching myself be walked over. That wasn’t supportive for anyone either.
After many years of this indulgence, I came to the realisation that I was feeding all their behaviour with my behaviour and not role-modelling any supposed developed ‘pre-frontal cortex reasoning’ at all – let alone love, responsibility, accountability, decency… the list could go on. This was not about beating myself up again for how I behaved or what I did, simply an honest recognition they had felt my ‘do-good’ imposition. They were communicating that I was needy and, not much of a role model in that neediness. Life had been changing, and I had not read their readiness for a change with boundaries to match where they were now at.
I clocked that my teenagers’ rebellious behaviours were in reaction to my unwillingness to let them follow their natural evolution towards independence.
My teenagers were growing up and ready for the next stage of life – to graduate from childhood to adult life I needed to learn how to equip them for high school and life beyond school. They needed to learn for themselves that there are choices and consequences, sometimes those consequences would come from themselves, their friends, others, or me. I realized I could offer them the space to learn how to walk, just as I had done when they were toddlers; I realized they might still have the potential for all the same stumbles, tumbles and tears. Just as I didn’t pick them up every time they fell over as a toddler, I needed to give them the same space and grace as teenagers, because by bumping into things, falling over and feeling their own consequences, they learnt how to navigate differently next time around… just as I did.
I learnt that integrity and consistency were vital skills to hone, not just for when they were teenagers but also as an ongoing role modelling behaviour. If I showed them hypocrisy, by saying one thing and doing another, that is what they would learn works in adult life and that is what we would get back. Bullying behaviour in the making.
I learnt that creating space in all relationships allowed everyone to grow.
Parenting in those teenage years was a great opportunity for getting to know the people my teenagers were, and in doing so I got to feel who I was too, without the role of parenting weighing me down and making me into someone I was not.
Whatever I learnt about relationships during those unpredictable years, I then applied it to all my relationships, not just those that were ‘troublesome’ to me.
I learnt that Love has strength, it has discipline, it has boundaries, it offers space and is founded on decency, respect, honouring and seeing those in my care as equal to me therefore not treating them as less. I needed to live that with and for myself first. My children needed to be able to live independently from me, I was a caretaker who was in their lives to equip them for whatever it was they were to bring into their lives, way beyond our home. They needed to know what Truth was, what Love was, how to speak up when something wasn’t right and how to allow others the space to come to their own realisations in their own time.
I learnt on the job and there is, has never been and never was any perfection.
Raising Teenagers went from being the greatest stress and a rollercoaster ride of emotions for us all, to being a constant discovery of who we both were underneath the behaviours and the role playing of grouchy parent versus petulant teenager."
Image by Joshua Choate from Pixabay