To every mom of littles, I feel a desperate need to debunk a myth. As a mom with two teens and now a 20-year-old, I need declare this.
Don’t fear the teen years.
Don’t buy the hype and bad press. Don’t believe those exasperated comments about how awful teenagers are. Don’t listen to the lady in the grocery store who talks loudly over your fussy toddler and says, “Just wait until he’s a teenager.”
I want to speak candidly about what’s ahead – the bad, the ugly, AND the good.
The Bad and Ugly
Middle school is no joke. It’s a time of forming identity and self-awareness and testing independence. Peers begin to morph into a “louder” influence to your child. Middle schoolers have insecurities that gets played out unpleasantly on the social scene. Because social media doesn’t help, we have to keep coaching our kids on life skills for the long haul.
During middle school, repeat this to yourself as often as necessary: A child’s middle school self is not his or her permanent self. Think back on your own middle school years. The teen years can look messy; the truth is we’re all a work in progress.
Two important coping skills I suggest are grace and connection. Extra grace is required for yourself and for your child, which leads to connection. Research reveals teens who feel connected to their parents are far less likely to choose risky behavior.
Lead firmly with grace, love, and clear expectations and consequences. But, keep connection in mind. Discipline with a tone of respect and don’t lord your authority over your kids. Don’t provoke them and don’t take things personally. Be a student of your child, and see him or her as her or she is—adults in training. Consider how to connect and not alienate them, even as you need to correct them.
Fostering connection with your kids is parenting for the long game. It’s setting up for a good relationship with your adult kids. Connection is as easy as family dinners, family nights, listening with your full attention, taking opportunities to be with them, and being intentional to have fun together.
If I had believed the hype, I might’ve missed the joy of mothering teens. Our mindset and attitude dictate our experience and our kids are intuitive. Not only do they smell our fear, but also any disdain. Expect your kids to speak respectfully about you and to you, and extend the same courtesy. Deal with criticisms directly and privately.
The Good Parts
Teens are forming their own opinions and perspectives, and it’s thrilling to see the people they’re becoming. Teenagers have a global perspective, a sense of social justice, and they’re full of potential and promise. It’s fascinating to hear my kids express their opinions about politics, faith, and just about anything. They’re also hilarious. (I’d like to take full credit for that, along with my husband. We have indeed taught our children to be fluent in sarcasm.) Dinner conversations are lively, and I find my grownish kids to be engaging and enjoyable.
I never knew to expect the joy of my kids becoming my favorite people to be with. I never thought about watching the ones I’ve taken care of all those years becoming reciprocal in that care. No one told me that in the late teen years, all the seeds I’d planted along the way would begin to grow fruit. I couldn’t fathom how the years of praying for my kids would bring a harvest of humbling answers.
Like all seasons, the teen years have their ups and downs. Sure, the potential dangers expand with their independence. Yes, it can be a season where my incredible wit and wisdom is underappreciated. But, this far into the game, I’m pretty well versed in them. All the years getting here has helped equipped me for this, as it will you. There’s a cumulative effect in mothering where every step helps prepare us for the next.
Not to mention teenagers sleep in on Saturdays. They don’t need help in the bathroom. They don’t stand outside the bathroom door putting their fingers under it yelling, “MOMMY!” They’re beginning to dream their own dreams. They bake elaborate birthday cakes for their brother, they run me to the ER for fluids during an illness, and they call from Smoothie King to see if I want one too on their way home.
They regale me with tales from work and school, and I manage to hide the smile when they inadvertently pass on our insight with other people. I tell them all the time that I’m their biggest fan, and I never imagined there’d be so much to cheer about in these years.
So, don’t fear the teen years. Just wait for the joy to come.