When my children were much younger, at any occasion where the subject of parenting teenagers came up in conversation, I paid close attention. I also felt my heart seized by panic at the thought that one day my dear little boys would grow into tall, hairy-legged teenagers who, I assumed, would declare their independence from me at every turn. I myself was a terrible teenager, moody and turned inward, unwilling to hear my parents' counsel, and so I braced myself that one day I'd parent some form of me.
However, in those conversations with more seasoned parents, my assumptions were consistently challenged. Not only did these parents speak about the joy of relating with their teenagers, but I saw their relationships with my own eyes and recognized the possibilities and opportunities ahead of me. These parents (and their teenagers) taught me through word and deed that I didn't need to fear parenting teenagers, but they also taught me that I should be prepared to parent differently than I had when my boys were young.
I'm starting to understand what they meant. Here is what I'm learning about parenting teenagers:
There are tremendous joys in parenting teenagers.
The greatest joy among many is my deepening relationships with my children. We have conversations that friends would have about everything from movies to the deepest issues of life. Their witty comments make me laugh, and they needle their father and me in fun. They are growing into themselves, into who God made them, and I delight in pointing it out to them, because they don't yet have eyes to see.
Young parents, these days I'm experiencing are the result of the rote, exhausting years of necessary training, discipline, and unending togetherness. You may feel that all you're doing is correcting, you may feel it'll never sink in, and you may feel that you'll never have a true relationship with your child. But I'm here to tell you that your consistency and persistence in the younger years will pay huge dividends in the teenage years. Press on toward joy, my friend.
There are tremendous lows in parenting teenagers.
In the teenage years, emotions run high and low, and I'm not speaking of the actual teenagers. I'm speaking of myself, the parent of teenagers. The stakes feel so high, and they are. As they are exposed to more choices, more independence, more of the world and its nature, there are landmines everywhere. As a parent, I know my children don't have the full extent of wisdom they yet need, but I also know that I can't hover over and control every aspect of their lives as they get older. Parenting a teenager is ultimately an ongoing lesson and test in whether or not I trust the Lord.
This past year, one of my sons found himself in a situation I would not have preferred. He'd done nothing wrong, he was very open with us about it, but I was nonetheless surprised at my own reaction. I was at various times angry, fearful, distrusting, panicked, and grasping for control. I also knew he was in over his head and didn't know exactly how. Looking back on that time now, I see how good it was not only for him but for me to walk through that situation. We were able to have many good conversations as he navigated a difficulty, and he saw our predictions and warnings actually play out in real time.
Mistakes and difficulties can be good for teenagers (and for their parents), especially if the relationship between parent and child is in place and is characterized by open communication. Mistakes and difficulties grow their faith, and they grow ours as well, but the emotional stakes are nonetheless high.
Teenage years are the busiest, most exhausting years of all.
When my children were young, parenting was physically exhausting. But they went to bed at 7:30 pm and they took naps and they didn't have their own social lives. I had hours with my husband uninterrupted in the evening, they went with us everywhere we went whether they liked it or not, and the calendar was dictated by our desires and our relationships.
Life now combines my children's social schedules, extracurricular activities, and needs with ours. We make decisions about what we can and can't do differently now because we don't want to drag our kids to everything we're invited to and also because we want to protect time when we can all be home at the same time together. Life feels full and can often feel overwhelmingly exhausting.
Because these years are so busy, the greatest challenge we face as parents is maintaining relationships: our marriage relationship, our relationships within the family, and our friendships. For example, teenagers stay up later, so we've had to relearn as a married couple where to grab alone time together. (We slip out for dinner alone together regularly or to simply run errands together. One of the joys of parenting teenagers is that we're done hiring babysitters!!) Without intentionality, in other words, the teens' schedules and activities come to dictate everything, and though we want to support them in their interests, we also know it's not healthy for their interests to rule.
In the teen years, other teenagers (and their parents) come into play.
When should a teenager get a cell phone? When should a teenager be allowed to go on a date? These are questions we've discussed and decided on together as Mom and Dad, but the influence of other families' choices cannot be overstated in the life of a teenager. I'm not saying that we allow other parents to make decisions for us; I'm saying that we have to work really hard to know our children's friends, we are willing to ask uncomfortable questions of our children's friends' parents if needed, and we have to be okay with our child being different than everyone around them. I think this last one is perhaps the hardest and most important of all. I have often had to ask hard questions of myself about why I wouldn't want my child to be considered "different" around their peers even though I know the "different" decision we've made is absolutely best for my child. We must be intentional in decision-making and willing to stand our ground according to our convictions.
My children need me more than ever.
Have you noticed a theme in these lessons I'm sharing? I'm learning how necessary relationship is with my children, and how necessary it is to know my specific children. In this stage of the game, they need me more now than ever. They need my presence, my awareness, my structure, my questions, my discipline, and my engagement in their lives. They need to know that I'm here, I love them no matter what, and that I will always sacrificially help them. Above all, they need to be close enough to see and hear my trust in the Lord for them.