Raising Teenagers. Seriosuly. It's Nuts.
Our first child’s dramatic entrance into the world set the tone; parenting ever since has been totally disorienting. Rushing down the hospital hallway toward emergency surgery, I wailed to my husband, “But I skipped the chapters in the books about c-sections!” Thus it began and thus it has continued. Nothing about parenting is what we expect. We diligently prepare for every challenge we can fathom only to meet unimaginable trials. 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. (Tweet This)
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 friends--like so many of us--are at their wits' end. (I write in this post about how "cutting the apron strings" is an inadequate metaphor for the painful process of raising adolescents.) The mother recently confessed, “It’s like we’ve never done this before!” 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. (See this post: have our children been stolen away in the night and replaced by supernatural beasts?)
Step Away from the Crazy: Parents Need Time-Outs, Too.
Hang tight, intrepid parents of teens! I have learned from parents—and their children—who survive the three-ring adolescent circus with their sanity intact. One trait they share is the ability to step back from the chaos and evaluate every unique circumstance for what it is. They have distance and perspective. When necessary, they take time-outs.
The concept of parenting time-outs is nothing new; my friends and I have practiced the move since our kids were much younger (sometimes together, often with wine). It's easy to see the value of stepping away from the chaos to clear our heads. Taking a moment to breathe and gain a new point-of-view--especially when a situation or argument erupts into madness--can make a wold of difference. And for parents of teenagers, time-outs can be especially productive if we use the time to consider three things.
Know, Protect, Honor: Open Eyes-Strong Arms-Full Hearts.
The parents who most successfully guide their kids through the rough waters of adolescence see the truth; they re-inforce boundaries; they love their kids enough to let them be themselves.They make sure they KNOW their children and the reality of the situation at hand. They PROTECT their children from real danger without fussing over smaller concerns. They HONOR each child's unique journey toward adulthood. In other words, they parent with open eyes, strong arms and full hearts.
We need time-outs when we feel stuck in the rut of living with overgrown toddlers (here, I explain how that works). Every time we remember to step back, breathe, and consider these three things, my husband and I find our way to more family harmony and less adolescent drama.
Whether they do so knowingly or not, great parents see their kids with wide-open eyes. They KNOW friends, behaviors, patterns, and enough about teenaged secrets to keep kids safe. Great parents do not meddle or sweat the small stuff but they have arms strong enough to maintain boundaries. (Tweet This) When teens are in real danger--and some very real predators lurk out there--these parents step in to PROTECT them. Great parents love their kids with full hearts. They HONOR their teenagers, forgive them for being imperfect and in-progress and laugh at their foibles. Parents with open eyes, strong arms and full hearts guide their children toward becoming the very best versions of themselves.
Three Questions to Make Time-Outs Most Productive:
The family system during adolescence is complicated and painful and confusing. But for now, try to step back when things spiral out of control with your teenager. Try to weigh each situation with clarity and candor. Ask yourself three things: "Do I KNOW what's really going on (are my eyes open)? Is there danger here from which I must PROTECT my child (are my arms strong)? Can I put my own needs, fears or feelings aside in order to HONOR the human being before me (is my heart full )?" This moment--and these questions--might just give you some new insight. The conflict might subside (even just a bit). And moment by moment, day by day, you'll slog through these tough times together.
Remember: there is no one answer when it comes to raising children. (Tweet This) Every child--and every situation, struggle, family crisis--is unique; we are never (ever) prepared for any of it. When we step back and evaluate--when we ask ourselves these quick questions before deciding how to act or react--we do our kids, ourselves and our families a great service.
It is, of course, vital not to check out completely (read here about why Mama Bear--and all her hibernation--fails as our role model when the kids hit puberty). After taking our time-out, asking these three questions and considering our options, we must check back in with our teenagers. Whether it's time to give consequences, listen without judging, give them some independence or cut them some slack, we must check back in. A time-out can be productive when we use our new perspective to help make things better for everyone.
Stay strong, parents. As always, we all shine on. I’d love to know how this version of the parent time-out works for you.
If you'd like to read an example of champion parenting (the tale of a dad who knows, protects and honors his daughter), please see Surf's Up; Dig Deep.
For a colorful story about how to see things in new ways when we're stuck in a rut, please read this post about the eBook release of my children's book, Bella Bug Says, 'Let Me See!'
And for more on how to step away when teens stop making sense, please check out We Are Too Old to Suffer Fools.