PARENTING CASE STUDY: Teenagers Destroy the Best of Us.
Carl is one of the most successful people we know, by almost any measure. He is a strong, strapping man, professionally accomplished, financially sound, a devoted father and loving husband: brilliant, funny, imposing, able, wise. We’ve known him and his family since our kids were in preschool together, during those blissful early days of parenthood. On a recent summer evening I casually asked how things were going now that we all have adolescents in our homes. The light in Carl’s eyes seemed to dim. He slumped a bit and suddenly looked older than his years. He sighed from deep within and said, “It’s harder than I thought it would be.” To all the world his two daughters are active, animated, polite young women. They are curious and engaged; they do well in school. And yet I saw before me a man defeated. Something about daily family life was threatening to break his spirit. And I thought, if living with adolescents can cause a man like Carl to crumble, why should the rest of us expect anything different?
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL (AND PERFECTLY NORMAL).
Few parents of teenagers escape unscathed. Living with adolescents brings the best of us to our knees and it’s easy to feel like a giant parenting failure most of the time. When our lovely children turn into angry malcontents, things tend to come apart at the seams: families, marriages, healthy self-identities. If you find yourself engaging in elaborate fantasies—like running away to join the circus, a convent, or a magical place where there is no laundry on the floor and no emails about missing homework—you are not alone.
Lately I've been pondering the first lines of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Maybe it's true. Maybe we are unique and set apart from one another by our struggles and strife. But these days, I doubt it. I gotta take issue with old Leo, now that I am part of my own struggling family. Perhaps the details of each family's challenges are unique, but in the grand scheme of things, raising a family is hard for everyone. Most of the time, I feel like my crazy family is messed-up in ways no one else will understand and that's depressing, y’all. It’s comforting to be reminded how perfectly normal it is to struggle when your kids are of a certain age. It happens to all of us. In this manuscript I will encourage all of us to take a new point-of-view: if we gain a better perspective of why it’s so difficult to raise teenagers, we can focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. If we observe the normal (but nutty) patterns of family life, we can lean on each other and see our way to more peace and less strife.
Teenagers will knock you flat. They stand on the precipice of leaving the nest and starting lives of their own. They rebel in a million ways, all designed to personally challenge their well-meaning, beleaguered parents. It is tempting to check out, to give up, to run away, to take a nap for the next few years.
Beyond Mama Bear, Beyond Hibernation: We must stay vigilant.
I am going to try and convince you why it’s important to do the opposite, to stay vigilant, engaged and awake. Raising teenagers is harder than any of us thought it would be but we can do it. Now—while we still have a few years with them at home—is the time to take a new look at helping our teenagers become responsible, fully actualized adults. If you have ever felt lonely or discouraged—if you have found yourself, say, in the fetal position on the floor of your closet, wracked with sobs and despair because your happy family is a thing of the past—please keep reading. Together, parents can help each other feel less isolated and gain a new point-of-view. It also helps to find ourselves some new role models for parenting, because as soon as the hormones rush in, everything we know about parenting flies out the window.
This is the first part of Chapter One of my in-progress manuscript. Read the preface here:
Up Next: Part 2 of 2 - Beyond Mama Bear: Why Parents of Teens Need New Role Models
I'm here to help guide you through the "I hate my kid!" years, with wit, wisdom and a wicked sense of humor. To book a workshop or lecture for your parenting or school group, please contact me.