Raising Teenagers. Seriosuly. It's Nuts. Our first child’s dramatic entrance into the world set the tone of total disorientation. Rushing down the hospital hallway toward emergency surgery, I wailed to my husband, “But I didn’t read very much about c-sections!”
Nothing about parenting is what we expect. We diligently prepare for every challenge we can imagine, only to meet trials we have not fathomed. Teenagers, especially, make it their business to flummox us. Despite our experience, wisdom, and general aptitude for, you know, LIFE, raising adolescents can feel like showing up to a five-alarm fire with a squirt gun.
A couple I know are raising their fifth teenager. The older four are happy, healthy, well-adjusted grown-ups who make their parents proud. And yet my friend, like so many of us, is at her wits’ end. She recently confessed, “It’s like we’ve never done this before!” It seems the current teenager is busy devising brand-new ways to rebel, challenge authority, express his youthful angst. These parents are seasoned professionals. They thought they knew every trick in the book. But every day with every teenager reminds us there is no book. No rules, no rhyme or reason . . . it’s like a carnival funhouse distorting the familiar into a terrifying new reality.
Some Parents Are Better Than Others. (I am Not One of Them.) Here is What They Do. Hang tight, Intrepid Parents of Teens! I have observed parents—and their children—who get through the funhouse intact. One trait they share is the ability to step back from the chaos and evaluate every circumstance for what it is.
As they decide how to respond, these parents do three things. They make sure they KNOW their children and the reality of the situation. They PROTECT their children from real danger without fussing over smaller concerns. They HONOR their children and their unique journeys toward becoming the adults they want to be.
Know-Protect-Honor. This has become my shorthand. My mantra. My quick reminder of how to proceed when I get stuck in the rut of living with overgrown toddlers. Every time we remember to step back, breathe, and think about these imperatives, my husband and I find our way to more family harmony and less adolescent drama.
The champion parents I have observed and interviewed do not appear to “take a moment” and repeat such commands to themselves. This is my invention, my groovy little habit as I scramble to emulate better parents than I am. Whether they do so consciously or not, great parents KNOW their kids’ friends, their behaviors, their patterns, and enough about their secrets to keep them safe. Great parents do not meddle or sweat the small stuff, but they maintain strict boundaries in order to PROTECT kids from some very real predators. Great parents HONOR their teenagers. They forgive them for being imperfect and in-progress; they laugh at their foibles; they guide them toward becoming the very best versions of themselves.
Try It Today! What Have You Got to Lose? I will discuss these ideas in much greater detail, but for now, try stepping back yourself when things spiral out of control with your teenager. Try weighing each situation with clarity and candor. Ask yourself three things: "Do I KNOW what's really going on? Is there danger here from which I must PROTECT my child? Can I put my own needs, fears or feelings aside in order to HONOR the human being before me?" See if you gain any new insight. See if the conflict subsides, even just a bit.
I’d love to know how it works for you.