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“Lots of my friends want to move out when they turn 18, but I don’t. Wanna know why?”
I glanced sidewise at my daughter in the car and tried not to nod too eagerly. Her words were music to my ears. Of course I wanted to hear more.
She took a deep breath and continued in her typical matter-of-fact way. “Well, sometimes parents think teens move out just to get away from rules, but that isn’t always it. We want a sense of independence, that’s all. And you and Dad already give me that, so I don’t have to fight for it or move out to get it. Plus,” she paused, “I’m about to finally get my own bedroom. Why would I want to move out now?”
I had to laugh. Here I was, about to give myself a big pat on the back over the I’m-giving-my-kid-enough-independence thing; and turns out it’s really all about the new bedroom.
My teenagers — all three of them — surprise me with conversations like this pretty much every day of the week. Not that everything they say makes me feel like I’m rocking this mom thing. Quite the contrary. Most days, I slink away to a quiet place and beg God for patience, wisdom, and a good night’s sleep.
But here’s the truth: Teens are typically brutally honest about what they’re feeling, as long as they have a safe place to say it out loud.
Our job, as moms of teenagers, is to learn how to keep our ears open and our mouths closed when our kids are ready to share a glimpse into their inner world. You never know when it’s going to happen, and that’s the hard part!
If you’re raising a teen right now, the last thing I want to do is load you down with guilt or add to your pile of things to get right. But hear me out. There are three super important parts of this parenting-teens gig that we moms absolutely can’t afford neglect. (This is important for dads too, but I’m talking to moms today.)
Will we mess up? Sure we will. The main thing is that we never stop showing up for our kids in these three important ways.
Are you ready? Here they are.
1. Show Them How to Adult
I turned 40 this year. I’m far from being a sage, but my perspective has sharpened a bit (okay, a lot) since my kids were little. Do you know what concerns me most about my generation? Millennials kind of forgot to grow up.
Remember the “I can’t adult today” jingle? Well, it went from a witty saying plastered on our coffee mugs to a full blown mantra embraced by a generation of American “adults.” Now that many of us are parents in the throes raising teenagers, it’s high time we put on our big girl panties and show our kids how it’s done. Adulting, I mean.
Mom, we can’t afford to get it wrong when it comes to:
- Showing up for our kids.
- Owning our mistakes (and apologizing when we’re wrong).
- Doing the hard work of emotional growth.
- Investing in relationships and learning how to resolve conflict.
- Making, saving, and managing money wisely.
- Owning our womanhood and sexuality with confidence and grace.
- Setting healthy boundaries in our lives.
If it’s true that our kids will stand on our shoulders, then let’s make sure we’ve got both feet planted firmly on the ground.
Bottom line: It’s our job to be the adults first.
2. Don’t Rescue Them from Natural Consequences
There’s a lot of debate over discipline in the parenting world, and the issue grows more complicated when kids grow into teens.
Whatever side of the line you stand on in the discipline debate, the main thing is that we don’t stand in the way of letting natural consequences teach our teens about life.
In other words, don’t rescue your kids.
Now, there’s certainly a time to advocate. Our kids need to know we’ve got their backs and will always believe in and fight for them. What I’m talking about here is the temptation to shield them from uncomfortable life lessons.
I deal with this a lot with my teens, so it doesn’t require much imagination to throw out a few examples:
- The 13 year old forgets his homework and gets in trouble at school.
- The 15 year old back talks and loses her social media privileges for a week.
- The 17 year old gets in an argument at work and creates stress for herself on the job.
In what ways can a loving mom step back and let her teen face the music?
Well, Mom doesn’t call up the teacher and ask her to change the grade. She doesn’t give in on the social media grounding, nor does she jump in the middle of a mess she didn’t create.
Life lessons can’t be learned until kids realize that every choice they make has consequences. Absorb the consequences for them, and it’s an opportunity wasted.
Bottom line: Always have their backs, but let your teens face the consequences of their choices.
3. Be a Safe Person
Showing kids how to adult is modeling the maturity we want them to emulate. Letting them make and learn from their own mistakes is tough love.
At the end of the day, teens need a safe place to exhale all the frustration and demands of life. No fear, guilt, or judgment. Just unconditional love.
Being a safe person for your kids is one of the highest and hardest callings of motherhood. Especially when you’re raising teens.
It’s hard because we moms have our own emotions, our own demanding days, our own expectations and disappointments to deal with. Sometimes it’s easier to give the lecture than it is to listen. Or to run our mouths instead of guarding our teen’s privacy when they’ve showed us their inner world.
Moms, we get to show up even when we’d rather check out. We have the privilege of loving well even when we’re hurting big time. We can choose to forgive even when we can’t forget.
Being a safe person for your teen will cost you something, but gaining your kids’ trust is absolutely invaluable.
Bottom line: Show your teen what a safe relationship looks and feels like.
If I’m honest with myself, I think my daughter’s desire to live at home — with four younger siblings and two parents who are in vocational ministry — has more to do with our relationship that it does with any parenting I’ve managed to get “right.”
Because I’ve made plenty of mistakes. And, quite honestly, many days just feel really hard.
So why does she want to stick around? (The new bedroom aside, of course.)
I’d like to think it’s because she feels like when it comes time to venture into that big adult world out there, she’s got a soft landing place right here. That Mom and Dad are safe (albeit imperfect) people who are going to cheer her on, no matter what.
If loving well is the main thing, I think we moms are going to rock this parenting thing after all.