Dear Parent:

This is the letter that I wish I could write. 

This fight we are in right now. I need it. I need this fight. I can’t tell you this because I don’t have the language for it and it wouldn’t make sense anyway. But I need this fight. Badly. I need to hate you right now and I need you to survive it. I need you to survive my hating you and you hating me. I need this fight even though I hate it too. It doesn’t matter what this fight is even about: curfew, homework, laundry, my messy room, going out, staying in, leaving, not leaving, boyfriend, girlfriend, no friends, bad friends. It doesn’t matter. I need to fight you on it and I need you to fight me back.

I desperately need you to hold the other end of the rope. To hang on tightly while I thrash on the other end—while I find the handholds and footholds in this new world I feel like I am in. I used to know who I was, who you were, who we were. But right now I don’t. Right now I am looking for my edges and I can sometimes only find them when I am pulling on you. When I push everything I used to know to its edge. Then I feel like I exist and for a minute I can breathe. I know you long for the sweeter kid that I was. I know this because I long for that kid too, and some of that longing is what is so painful for me right now.

I need this fight and I need to see that no matter how bad or big my feelings are—they won’t destroy you or me. I need you to love me even at my worst, even when it looks like I don’t love you. I need you to love yourself and me for the both of us right now. I know it sucks to be disliked and labeled the bad guy. I feel the same way on the inside, but I need you to tolerate it and get other grownups to help you. Because I can’t right now. If you want to get all of your grown up friends together and have a ‘surviving-your-teenager-support-group-rage-fest’ that’s fine with me. Or talk about me behind my back–I don’t care. Just don’t give up on me. Don’t give up on this fight. I need it.

This is the fight that will teach me that my shadow is not bigger than my light. This is the fight that will teach me that bad feelings don’t mean the end of a relationship. This is the fight that will teach me how to listen to myself, even when it might disappoint others. 

And this particular fight will end. Like any storm, it will blow over. And I will forget and you will forget. And then it will come back. And I will need you to hang on to the rope again. I will need this over and over for years.

I know there is nothing inherently satisfying in this job for you. I know I will likely never thank you for it or even acknowledge your side of it. In fact I will probably criticize you for all this hard work. It will seem like nothing you do will be enough. And yet, I am relying entirely on your ability to stay in this fight. No matter how much I argue. No matter how much I sulk. No matter how silent I get.

Please hang on to the other end of the rope. And know that you are doing the most important job that anyone could possibly be doing for me right now.

Love, Your Teenager

(This post originally ran on Emotional Geographic.)

About the author: Gretchen Schmelzer, PhD is a licensed psychologist, trained as a Harvard Medical School Fellow. She is a trauma survivor, who has worked for twenty-five years with the complex issues of trauma, integration and behavior change across every level of system from individuals, to groups, to large systems and countries, including her role as the expert consultant Frontline for their documentary on Alaskan survivors of priest sexual abuse (aired April 19, 2011). Gretchen is the Founder & Editor of Emotional Geographic, a web-mag created to support healing from long term trauma.


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  1. This is awesome… thank you from a mother of two teen girls.

    • As a Mom of two teen girls I COMPLETELY agree with you! Let’s get through this with them!

  2. This is a VERY SAD commentary on today’s teen world. However, not sure if it applies to ALL teenagers, or even 50% of them. Hopefully, I’m right.

    • This has been the nature of adolescence for generations. It’s all part of becoming an adult and trying to figure it out. If anything, it’s a sad commentary on today’s adult world, because it’s a reminder to parents to love their children UNCONDITIONALLY, and help them navigate the world and find ways to deal with difficult emotions. The world is a very overwhelming place, especially when you are coming of age within it. Many adults do give up on their kids, or get caught up in their own egos and take everything personally, and even shut their kids out. We’re all in this together. Teens need help to be part of that journey.

      • Very well said. I agree 110%. This is a very different world, and yes, very overwhelming. Even for an adult. Just to much input. Point being, do not give up. Do not not let ego take over. Remember who the adult is.

      • I agree with you too. I was a HORRIBLE teenage girl!! I wouldn’t wish my past self on any of you. lol.. I was expecting worse from my own daughter and although we had some struggles, we got through it pretty well. The main thing is to talk to your child EVERYDAY – even if they give you one word answers, roll their eyes, mock you, get mad – do it anyway. They will hear you. If they do decide to actually talk to you, listen attentively and try not to interrupt or judge. It’s so hard to do but it works.

      • Totally agree, and also I really needed a reminder today that I am the parent, and not to get on the same wave length of my child. And not to stoop to their level. Give up my ego and be a real mom. Where I point her to her bright future, and not be a sook, about all the things I did that were wrong…this was a great reminder to me.
        Thanks you so so so much.

    • Hey, this was me 40 years ago. Now it is my 20 yo old who has been “Mr. Perfect” till it got too had this last year and my 14 yo who struggled much of her toddler years and is going through it again.
      It is not “kids these days”. It is “kids all days.

  3. No teenager wrote this. I’m so sick of adults writing posts to pull at our heart strings and then wearing out our compassion for one another when it’s all a lie.

        • The title is The Letter Your Teenager CAN’T Write you…. so, yeah, we pretty much know it is not written by a teenager!

    • You have limit on compassion? What happens when you run out? It matters not who wrote it. Most parents/families I see these days seriously have no idea how to be human with each other or their children. Or how to apologize, or love unconditionally, or do the right thing even when you’re so pissed you wanna scream. And, while this is my first time on this site, what I’m sick of is people who assume, people who whine, people who talk to others as if they have it all figured out. I also think arguing on FB is the epitome of ignorance. That said, damn hon, you sound bitter as hell.

    • The title of it was “The Letter Your Teenager Can’t Write You”… If you didn’t read the credits it was written by a PHD licensed psychologist. The point was to try to give parents with difficult teens a better idea of what they are going through and that they need their support even when they act like they hate them and try to push them away. Way to miss all of that entirely and make this about what you wanted it to be about…

    • The writer has worked closely (25 yrs) with these types of relationships and has had the privilege to garnish insight from teen issues. For some/many of us who have teens have lived through these challenges she presents in this letter. On spot. Helpful.

  4. Thank you for this. Beautiful way to describe your child’s ever changing struggles, and hope to never give up, and never give in. I love my children with all my heart, I will never give up on them!!! ????

  5. “The Letter Your Teenager Can’t Write You”

    the name of the article even states its not written by a teenager.

  6. Good article..I have been in this for past year. It has been very exhausting espicially when your husband does not your back.

    • I have been going though rough times with my son off & on for years& I enjoyed this very much , but wish like you that my husband would have my back & support me .

    • That is what I am going through. It shouldn’t be basically Make a Chioce. Between father and son. I feel very hopeless and helpless.

  7. Wow, I really needed this and I have shared with my teens.
    Yes, this is exactly where we are and so important for them to read.

  8. This came at the perfect time for me. Thank YOU, I needed to hear this so much, you’ll never know. I have been approaching the, “I Give Up” stage in my relationship with my son, only it having fueled on by my mother’s constant message of, “You’ll never get any thanks for it, in the end”….but having read your article, you’ve reminded me that, I’m not in to get thanks…and that I have to hang in there…he’s my son, my first born, I love him more than anything and he’s worth it….hell or high water. Thank YOU.

  9. I’m going to save this and read it everytime I need a reminder that I know my teenager daughter loves me but in reality this is what teenagers do. Not because they are bad or don’t care about you, or you raised a mean child, but because it’s there normal part of growing up. You are the only one they trust to yell at still supposed to love them and be there. And coming from a mom who gave up on me as a teenager, I will never give up on my daughter.
    Thanks for writing this post 🙂

  10. Great words. Validated what this 68-yr old grandmother feels instinctively about my 15 yr old grandson.

  11. Pingback: Teen Troubles | Thought Raker

  12. I remember these “discussions.” I’m not saying every teenager went through it, but I know I sure did. And it was tough trying to figure out how to act when life had been a cake walk through most of my childhood. But then going through the figuring out phase was a nightmare, for all involved. I’m copying and pasting to send to my folks for holding on to the other end of that rope. Maybe this ain’t for everybody, and that’s fine. But it spoke to me and I’m grateful you were able to put it into words so MAYBE folks going through the same thing can relate.

  13. I needed to be reminded of this today. Great article. Thank you.

  14. That,s why parents need to be there and push back … For a long tme and again ….

  15. I don’t know, Janet – it doesn’t sound like a crock to me.
    But then, I remember very well being the teenager on the other end of the rope.
    And this articulating my experience there very well.
    I don’t assume every teenager will go through something like I did but, when you are lost and you push away everyone and everything, you most certainly do need your parent there on the other end, never letting go.
    MIne let go.
    And, so very many many years later, I am only now emerging from a place where “my shadow (has been) bigger than my light”, where bad feelings (have) mean the end of a relationship” and only now learning how to listen to myself, even when it might disappoint others.
    When they let go, I learned I was not good enough to love, that my rage and fear and sadness made me un-loveable. That nobody would fight for me, that I wasn’t important enough for the effort.
    Don’t mis-understand, I recognise I was an out-of-control terror and this post also articulates that as well but I think what I heard here was that, despite that, I was still their child and I still needed them to hold on to the rope.
    Just my .02$

    • You have articulated perfectly what sounds to be a very similar experience to my own. Thank you for sharing your story and may your light now always be bigger than your shadow.

  16. “I desperately need you to hold the other end of the rope. To hang on tightly while I thrash on the other end—while I find the handholds and footholds in this new world I feel like I am in.” And this is what parenting a kid is about. Being that rock. Holding space for them to thrash around, while at the same time holding boundaries, teaching them boundaries. Especially being the parent of a special needs child whose emotions are often not well regulated, I live this. Thank you for writing this.

  17. So many teenagers feel exactly what was said in this letter. we have to listen to our children. Remember they will be our leaders of tomorrow. I am a 83 year old grandmother with 4 great grandchildren. one turning 18. So proud of him and his mother and father.

  18. Thank you this gave me a different perspective as to why my son & I but heads , I’ve felt like giving up& reading this just reminded me how much he still needs me to pull & fight for him .he may never thank me but that’s ok because one day he will turn into the wonderful young man I know he is deep inside of him

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  20. The only problem I have with this article is the fact that it states that it is okay to talk about a teenager behind their backs, to me this is not an okay thing. As a parent we should be teaching our children loyalty and respect, and to work out our problems between one another. The whole world does not need to know that your child has done wrong. Besides that point, if they were to over-hear their parent talking badly about them they would feel immensely hurt and very betrayed. Teens do not need to feel betrayed by their own parents. It is in fact a very crucial time in their lives and they are emotional wrecks. There is no need to make them feel any worse about themselves than they probably already do. I only have this opinion because growing up with a mother who did not at all mind spouting every bad decision I made to anyone who would speak to her, really hurt my self esteem. I still to this day sometimes feel very small because of the things I’ve heard my mother say to others about me. It’s always made me question her love for me. That is not a feeling I want my child to inherit.

    • I’d say there is a difference between calling out your kid in public, telling everyone their (dirty) business, and attempting to use that as motivation for them on the one hand like your mom did. I also know someone who does this and it’s not pretty for anyone, like you’ve experienced.

      And on the other hand, there is the vulnerable dad who relies on my trusted friends to work through the challenges of parenting. I talk with my friends, share stories, and listen to feedback and ideas because I care deeply about my kids. There is no intention to harm, on the contrary there is intention to love, and it’s done in private. It’s my work to be a better human, and I’d say this is essential work, hard work, that we don’t do enough of.

    • You need to re read the article. The line you speak of was not intended to be taken literal. It was also to be expressed by the teenager. I took it more as a form of discussion with another adult. I was once this teenager. I love and understand my children. I grow and learn everyday as I am not perfect. They teach me as well as I teach them. I might assume you have no teenage children, or you may not remember your teenage years. Either way, you might consider how complex this world is. The adult end of the rope is double edged sword. It’s a tough one. We to are scared, but must hold tight.

  21. Good Old Tom Reply

    Self-vindicating delusional twaddle to justify the inevitable fruits of poor parenting. Quit spanking your kids. Be willing to discuss and negotiate wants, needs, causes & effect and show them there is a different way to approach things then just blowing up. Give them unstructured time to explore & blow off steam. Remove the iPhones and Playstations. This shouldn’t be rocket science..

  22. If my mother had been aware and capable of this, I wouldn’t be suffering from a severe, early and utterly debilitating developmental trauma.
    Most of you don’t understand how insanely important this letter really is.
    Don’t ever, ever, ever give up on your kids.
    Teaching them that your love for them can survive anything is beyond crucial for their selfworth, selfconfidence and relationship skills.
    My mother loved me the best she knew how and it wasn’t good enough.
    I don’t blame her for that anymore. To this day she still loves me as much as she can.
    The thing is, I now suffer from generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, periodical depressions that were previously so bad that I had what is called micropsychotic episodes, ADHD, Borderline Personality Disorder and a plethora of selfloathing.
    All because my mother’s love was conditional.

    So I urge you to read that letter again. Even if your child is an infant or toddler.
    Even if your child is fully grown.
    You read it again, print it out, frame it, save it on your phone.
    Do whatever it takes to avoid giving your child the trauma I got from an otherwise really normal looking childhood.
    Don’t just love your kids when they are “good enough” to be loved.
    Love them always, love them fiercely and make sure they never forget it.

    • My life was close to yours. Anxiety, ADHD, it’s all there. A life time battle. But you are winning the battle. You grew. You learned.

      The negative comments here are all from “un grown” grown ups.
      People that never advanced. Tell others to “shake it off”!
      I agree, frame it, save, read it. Never ever give up. My kids are my life and I will never put them through the crap life I lived. But let’s not forget, my crap life gave my kids a better life.
      I wish you the very best. You are a great person ! A hero !

  23. This was very comforting to me as a single mother of a very challenging and depressed teen daughter. The separation process is especially tough with just the two of us!
    I want to also say to you judgmental trolls in the comments section: you do you and keep your nasty posts to yourselves. If you are such great parents why do you have so much extra hate floating around?

  24. Simple question then – what should our expectations be for teenagers?

  25. I always say, in order to understand your teenager, remember when you were one, is like the emty nest in order to deal with the idea or the time your kids leave the house, remember you did the same!!! It is that simple,!!!!

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  27. Pingback: What Grace in parenting teens might look like | Just:Words

  28. Did my son dictate this letter? I hope so, because it would tell me he appreciates all I do and how much I love him.

  29. As I tell my son “I love you enough to do the hard parts, even when neither of us likes them much.”

  30. Charles martin Reply

    I have absolutely no patience for people who have children, and then complain about it. Parenthood is like suicide, it is self-inflicted. Children are like pizza, they do not just arrive, you have to put in an order

  31. Pingback: Holding on to the rope | fourgreatkids

  32. Jodi Mueller Reply

    Hard to get thru to kids that are alienated against you by a narcissistic parent that seeks to destroy you. There is no hope for millions of us who will not even see these children again.

  33. Thank you for this post. I really needed to hear this today. For me it seems like a never-ending battle with my son. I used to explain to him why certain decisions were made but it feels like it falls on deaf ears so I stop explaining and end up yelling.

  34. Anonymous. Reply

    I agree partly. There are mothers that make it impossible to have a good day in their presence. As a 16 year old boy, i can say that this post is completely false for my situation. In fact it is the other way around. I wasn’t gifted with a good mother, and many other people are the same way, I get this posts view, but it just isn’t reality a lot of the time. I was never abused, and won’t be, but moms do not always know best, and will often find an explanation that makes them sound ideal. Thats the problem I have with this article. Other than that, it is true for a lot of teenagers.

  35. Wow this post really strikes a cord with me. Thank you for sharing it – my husband, a youth worker at a teen detention facility, has asked me to print it out to post in the staff room at work. Fantastic.

  36. Thank you for posting this, perfect timing. My 13 year old son is testing me every second and this is the boost I needed to remind me I’m doing the right things. It’s amazing any of us make it past this age lol.

  37. That just never happened between me & my lovely Mum. Gone to heaven since 2007 age 96!

  38. Robyn Kuntz Reply

    I think this article has a lot of good reminders and good advice. Thank you for sharing it. As a parent it serves as a great reminder. As an adult I would like to point out that if you do not agree with any of the points or they do not apply to you and your situation but you feel that you must respond please respond appropriately not with hostility or hate. That is not necessary at all to be so negative.

  39. Denise Lomonico Reply

    Thank you for this, today of all days. My 12 year old daughter is being bullied and every thing I say or do is wrong. I called the school I talk to the guidance counselor today and she’s furious with me. She doesn’t want to go to school anymore she wants to drop out and be homeschooled. I feel like one of the girls mothers is orchestrating all of the events that I’ve gone on since this year began. On our initial meeting she told me that her daughter had issues and she was so glad my daughter was in her life. Now their daughter has my daughters friends and my daughter is on the complete outside. There was a class trip today and The mother was a chaperone she took a photo of all of the girls in the class the only girl that was not in the picture with my daughter. Three of my daughters friends were all wearing matching sweatshirts with her daughter. My daughter was put with boys! She’s shy, she’s quiet and very reserved. She is exceptionally polite and kind. But when she’s backed in a corner or put down she gets very quiet and withdrawn and then shuts down. I have had her in counseling in the past and I will obviously contact the counselor again tomorrow to schedule appointments again. We had just stopped for Christmas and haven’t gone back but it’s apparent that she needs to go I just feel so bad she has talked about hurting herself in the past and I’m alone trying to navigate her in life. My son says I should be tough to make her put her big girl pants on and deal with stuff my ex-husband says kids are kids and she’s got to deal with it. But my daughter has told me she here, that breaks my heart.

  40. We are raising our almost 15 year old granddaughter,and at 73 it gets very tough at times but I always said I will never give up on her. Her mother gave her up for drugs,but Im happy to say she’s a recovering addict and taking some responsibility for her.With God all things are possible.

  41. what a great article… reminding parents not to give up and teens that it is a normal struggle that they will survive….

  42. Debbii Cuthbert Reply

    I love the letter but its too long for their attention span…..

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