“Being a mom has made me so tired. And so happy.” Tina Fey
When I chose to become a parent I didn’t put a lot of thought into the teen years ahead; they seemed so far in the distance, but then suddenly they were here. In a few short years I went from navigating snack time and bath schedules to negotiating rules around access to technology and social media, curfews, and dating. These days I am a mom to two teenagers; add in a worldwide pandemic, and you have a lot in the mix. Through the highs, the lows, and everything in between, I have managed to learn a thing or two about what not to do and have become better at noticing what works for us.
It seems parenting all kids, but especially teens, requires an ability to be nimble, supportive and flexible. This is not our parents’ generation. In a world that likes to put things into tidy categories, many aspects of parenting teens are not black and white. Supporting the transition to adulthood seems to lie mostly in the gray. While teaching behaviours like how to use an ATM is clear, rules related to family values are not. These family rooted rules require longer conversations about the WHY. Once youth understand the reasoning behind a rule, even if they don’t like it, things often go much smoother. I have also found that allowing my teens to have input in some of our house rules goes a long way to them being followed. I have learned that a little bit of flexibility with rules, when appropriate, goes a long way in the bank of teens feeling understood. Importantly, involving them in these conversations also contributes to supporting their growth as young adults. This is not how I was raised, and not how I imagined parenting either, but it has been part of my growth as a mom. This is the new world of parenting.
Author and activist Glennon Doyle’s recent podcast described teens being like plants - they still need care, attention, and love, but you need to “water” them carefully and less often because overwatering can be more damaging than helpful. Teens need you in their corner but need time to grow at their own rate, and in their own way. This goes against my instinct to be in the know about all aspects of my teen’s life. How can I be of any use to them if I don’t know everything that is going on in their lives at any given moment? It has taken me a while to truly understand and respect their increased desire for autonomy and privacy. This may not be my ideal, but giving my teens some space and agency over their own lives makes them feel respected as young people emerging into who they want to be.
In my work as a counsellor, my teen clients share that the number one thing they wish their parents would do is listen to them. I hear this over and over. Sounds simple enough to put into practice. But do I do this consistently? If you were to ask my teenagers, probably not. Gone are the days where talks about “life lessons” are received well. Helpful reminders (that are sometimes repeated multiple times) can sometimes be met with “oh yeah, thanks Mom!” or alternatively, an eye roll accompanied by a death stare.
These are the moments I realize sometimes less is more. But what is the best way to motivate my teens to do as they are asked, in a timely way, without reminding them six times to put their elastics on their braces every morning? Psychologist Lisa Amour suggests having teens write out their own list of what needs to be done in their morning. Then parents can ask questions along the lines of “Where are you on your list?” as a way of providing a gentle reminder, rather than taking onus for their responsibilities. If this doesn’t work, she suggests having conversations regarding how we know this will play out (with a cranky parent AND a cranky teen) as a more helpful approach to endless back and forth with your teen. This collaborative approach seems to help ease unnecessary tension for both me and the kids. Teens seem to appreciate being involved in the many parts of developing healthy habits, abiding by the family rules, and understanding family values.
Sometimes it's also my job to learn and better understand; I could not find this to be more true than in dealing with the new landscape of social media. Access to technology is a common topic of argument with many families and a tricky balance to navigate; one that requires patience and understanding. Practicing curiosity in your teens’ digital world can potentially lead to meaningful conversations and opportunities for connection. Though it would be much easier to deny access to all social media apps and remove these items from our lives completely, this is quite simply, not realistic. The digital world is an important form of social connection for teens and became much more vital during the pandemic. How do we find a balance between how much access is appropriate, while allowing for the connection and belonging that the online world can offer?
We are still navigating this balance in our home, but it has led to another lesson I have learned from parenting teens: I am not going to get it right every time. I am going to make mistakes, and perhaps step on their feelings unintentionally from time to time. I now know mistakes will happen, and I don’t mean just by my teens. I have noticed how forgiving teenagers can be of my own humanness. A simple apology is easily accepted, and everyone moves on. What a beautiful thing!
There is no doubt that parenting teens can be exhausting and at times, challenging. If you are feeling overwhelmed with parenting and need some support, or just some fresh ideas, the Together website parenting section has helpful local resources that may be of benefit.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart nor is it easy to be a teenager in the world today. There are many unexpected joys of parenting youth and I know I have benefitted from their energy, fresh perspectives and teachings of tolerance and kindness. So, like Tina Fey, am I tired? Absolutely yes. But if you ask me if I am happy, the answer is also a resounding yes. That is a win, win in my books any day.