The idea of not taking it personally as I parent my teens is basically my mantra these days. Parenting is currently the center of my universe right now and based on the various conversations I’ve had as of late, many of you can relate or have navigated the teen infested waters and have survived. Yes, I did just compare parenting teens to that of being in shark-infested waters. Why? Because for some of us we are fighting. Yes. Fighting for our lives and their lives. Perhaps you have no idea what I am talking about and you think that I am a drama queen. My sincere reply to you is, you are so lucky and move along cause this post will either bore you, make you not want to have kids or think that I am just crazy. Which I am because I am a mom of teenagers and teenagers make a perimenopausal mom even crazier.
It’s Not You, It’s Them
Earlier today I had to take my 16-year-old to the gym. Why? Because he’s no longer in traditional high school so he needs to fulfill PE credits. I could feel the negative energy radiating off of him. I knew he was looking for a fight. He was mad about being there and at the rules that we have enforced in regards to his new schedule (or really lack of, it seems). I backed away. Not taking the bait. A fight was not on my to-do list today. Nope. Not today, Satan. I don’t have the energy to do this fight thing every day. He headed into the gym. He was angry. I could feel it. The break came at a perfect time as he would have likely succeeded in creating drama, I would have felt attacked and then the fight would have ensued. The time away from each other, as well as him getting some good endorphins from working out, helped diffuse the tension. Sometimes these quiet moments make us see that a mood maybe has nothing to do with us but we might end up being the emotional punching bag as they work out their shit. His anger likely comes from his own habits that make him feel crappy and irritable. You know, things like staying up too late, drinking too much caffeine and eating Cheetos for dinner and Hostess donuts for breakfast. None of which I buy for him. I keep giving the tools for a happy and healthy life but it’s up to him to use them.
I just read an awesome article about how much we, as parents, need each other even more through the teen years. How our tribes are a necessity but how lost some of us feel because everything we share isn’t positive and we might feel judged. We are working our asses off in our own homes and sometimes the wheels fall off because guess what, we aren’t in charge of everything. That is a bitter pill to swallow, especially if you are a self-professed control freak. I am definitely inserting a raised hand after that last sentence. In the teen years, you start looking for compromise, not compliance. I know this to be true because my therapist told me so. If you are in the thick of hard things, get yourself a therapist. They bring some good stuff to the table of life.
Full disclaimer, this season of parenting is kicking my ass, unlike any other that came before it. Honestly, it has felt more isolating then other seasons. Why? Because not everyone gets it. They give me advice even though they aren’t parenting my kid. I’ve heard things like, “My son can’t look up to your son anymore because of his choices”. Do you know what I heard? I heard, “Your kid is an asshole.” Yep. Just like that, I want to scream, “My kid may make bad choices but he’s still a good person who would save your kid’s ass in a hot second.” I’ve heard, “What are you going to do?” after I’ve poured my heart out about everything that we are doing as parents. I want to scream, “Were you even listening?” Sometimes, people speak out of their own fear. I know that but when I see that look of horror on someone’s face or hear the judgment in their voice, I am totally out of there.
I Would Never
Before kids, most of us thought we had all the answers to parenting. We were adamant that we wouldn’t let our kids do things that we saw other kids doing. We thought we knew better and that we had more control than those that parented before us. What a joke, right? Once we took that leap and became parents, we began to feel humbled because those sweet precious babies that we brought into the world came with their very own personality. Gasp. What? Yep. Maybe the temperament of your kids is easy breezy and you aren’t struggling at all. Guess what? You got lucky. Raising ‘good kids’ doesn’t have everything to do with parenting. Trust me. My boys are so night and day from each other and they are not spitting images of my hubby and I. Except my youngest one totally looks like me but his eyes are blue like his dad’s. He’s also more of a rule follower like me. My oldest is a bit fearless and he definitely gets that from his dad. But really, they are their own people. Uniquely them. We can offer all the tools to help them along but that is the other fun part of teens, they think they already know everything. So whatever I say is just dumb but I say it anyway. Quite honestly, I am good at giving advice. I’m thoughtful and insightful. I am also emotional and slightly opinionated. Sometimes all of the emotions pour out at once and that is most terrifying. I don’t care. I’m in survival mode. As I’ve gotten older, my patience for tolerating things has shifted drastically.
Recently, I’ve had multiple conversations with parents who, like me, are struggling. Struggling with strong-willed independent teens who maybe aren’t making the best choices despite all that we have taught them. Contrary to all of the constant reminders to make good choices. It’s a tricky time for many of my friends. For many, it’s not. Or so they say. I’m not here to air my or my teens’ dirty laundry, but I’m here to tell my friends that I am here for you. I have your back and I will not judge you. We are in the trenches together. I know most of us are working our asses off to be good parents. To raise great kids. Sometimes all of our efforts aren’t effective. Why? Because teens know everything. I thought four-year-olds were the knowers of all the things but hello teens, you guys know everything! I’m just basically a dummy with zero life experience that pays the bills and makes sure that you have food on the table. I know nothing.
The Years of Discovery
What are the teen years? They are the years of discovery. They are the years of testing boundaries. For figuring out who you are. The teen years are so hard compared to the toddler years. No joke. As a parent, you start to feel like you have some independence and then, boom! You are back to watching over your teen to make sure that they don’t slip up too much. This surge of independence and thinking they know all the things is overwhelming. There is a fine line between letting them grow, letting them fail and setting hard rules for their safety. Another thing I heard in a parenting group – yes, I belong to one of those as well – is that sometimes natural consequences are the most powerful life lessons of all. Amen.
Adjust Your Sails
In the world of parenting, there is a whole lot of pivoting, adjusting your sails and just taking a deep breath and calling your spouse/counselor/girlfriend/coworker. Find your tribe. You may have to adjust things a bit because some people just won’t get it. They will offer all the solutions like you haven’t thought of everything. They might retreat because they don’t know what to say. They still love you, I am sure of it. I’ve felt this a little bit in my own social circle. It’s ok. We are still friends but I’m struggling during this time and any bit of what I sense as judgment has me bolting cause I can’t take any more hurt in my heart.
Don’t Judge Me
Judgment is something I am really letting go of. You tell me that a kid is bad news? Well, I am going to make that opinion for myself and do you want to know why? Because my kid might have that rep and is it hurts my heart to think that he is labeled as a ‘bad kid’. He is not a bad kid. He is, however, full of bad choices. So teens, unless you give me just cause, I will not label you. I will meet you, I will interact with you and guess what? I will likely see just how awesome you are. I will also remind you that choices come with consequences and maybe, just maybe you’ll hear me. Maybe.
Maybe you are in a space where what you thought your teen’s future would be is proving to be wrong. Guess what? That is ok! My biggest wish for my kids is that they thrive and survive. I want them to find joy. To be successful. To be happy. Their paths might be different then what I thought but that is ok. They are unique and so are their journies. Aside from trying to keep them on a straight path, I can’t make them be anything they don’t want to be. It’s their path, I’m just here to help steer them along.
It’s A Hard Time To Be A Teen
A few things have really changed since the days when I was a teen. The biggest being technology. Can I just tell you how much I loathe the posts on Facebook and Next Door about the awful teens? I mean come on. They get zero grace. Let me ask you, were you a perfect teen? I doubt it. I was a pretty good teen. I didn’t get in trouble. Yes really. I did what I needed to do, I pulled the grades, I had a job, I didn’t break curfew. So I basically flew under the radar. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t do stupid things. I just didn’t get caught. I look back and think about how stupid I was. Mind you, I have always been a bit of a rule follower BUT I did the stupid things. Do you know how much I hear, “I can’t believe I survived my teen years” from grown-ups? All the time. Yet here we are. Blasting about the stupidity of teens on social media. So much of the stupid is age appropriate even if it’s not ok or we are mortified that ‘it’ happened. I am not saying that teens should have free reign to mess up but expect it. Some lessons are harder than others. Trust me. I know. What happens when you have screwed up in your life? Did you learn a lesson? Probably. There are lessons in mistakes.
It’s a rough time to be a teen. Maybe you disagree. I personally think it sucks. Today I heard teenagers referenced as ‘screenagers’. All the technology has opened so many more dangerous windows. Literally. Kids blast all of their indiscretions. Even when you think you’ve taught them better. Even when you think you are watching over all of their social media channels. They sneak right past you. Because they know how. Because this is their world. They don’t know different. Sometimes I feel sad for them because growing up in the 90s sure was easier. If you wanted to talk to a friend, you used a landline. In high school, my girlfriends and I would write each other letters. Yes, we did this during class but it was so much less of a distraction than cell phones that are attached to most of our hands. It’s out of control. How often is a teen in trouble because of something stupid shared on social media? Often. Impulsiveness is one of the effects of teens growing brains.
It’s Going By So Fast
If you are in these teen waters and if you are struggling, I see you and I am here for you. It’s a hard season. Sometimes it feels like I just want to get past the hurdles and the stress. I want to fast forward but then that literally crushes my soul because I don’t want to wish away any time with my kids because it’s going so fast. For a second they are your babies and then boom, they are plotting their future without you and wondering when they can leave this ‘awful’ place that you have worked so hard to create as a home filled with love. They say mean things and then you say them back because you are wounded. Wanting to push away the people you love the most is not the best feeling. Being a teen is tough, parenting one is even tougher.
Somedays, I am making all the jokes about looking forward to being an empty nester or drinking to survive because I need the humor to survive and then other days I am almost mourning how fast it’s all gone. One of the biggest things I am trying to work on every day is changing my narrative. I get so frustrated with the choices and even moods of my teens and I refer to them as not nice things, yes, asshole comes out of my mouth quite often and then I think, “How my kid acts isn’t all that he is”. Well, my therapist also pointed that out to me. Therapists are totally worth the money by the way. Our kids are not the sum of their choices. That is just a part of who they are. Those frontal cortexes are just not developed and they won’t be until they hit their twenties. So yep, hold on through the college years too. Also, some of the easiest teens change course in college. Never say never.
Don’t Take It Personally
Today, I will push pause. I will listen to my teens. I will ask them to tell me more (because I read a book that said that’s the question I should be asking my kids on the daily). I will ask for the hugs. I will praise the awesome things that they do. I will love harder. I will cherish who they are. I will try not to take it personally.
Gabby McGraw is a happily married, sarcastic potty-mouthed mom surviving life with two teenage sons that resides in Northern California. You can also find her blogging on everything from interior design to the best cookie recipes over at Organized Squirrel. She also posts daily on Instagram and Facebook http://organizedsquirrel.com
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