I recently Googled “parenting teens” just to see what would come up. To my complete lack of surprise, here are some of the articles that popped up on the first page:
- Dealing with Difficult Teens
- 5 Mistakes Parents Make with Teens
- A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Teen Years
- Parenting Course: DCF Approved
- Parenting Teens: Discipline and Communication
- Raising Teenagers: The Mother of All Problems
Our culture wants us to believe that teenagers are difficult, challenging, disrespectful, rude, slothful, slovenly heathens who live only to make our lives as mothers more difficult. Well, I am here to call shenanigans on that! Of course, those assertions are true sometimes. But no one is perfect. I’m pretty sure the same could be said about every one of us from time to time.
Teenagers are interesting, complex, and enjoyable humans! Caught in the middle of who they were as children and who they’ll become as adults, they have a unique perspective on the world and their place in it. They are old enough to shoulder responsibility and young enough to still need us. They test us and try us. And then, in an instant, they make us prouder than we ever imagined possible.
Staring The Teen Years Squarely in the Eye
Nothing can prepare you for parenting a teenager until you have one. My oldest two boys just turned sixteen and thirteen last month. The older son is over six feet tall and his younger brother matches every bit of my height. What a strange feeling it is to have to look up to meet your baby’s gaze!
I’ll be perfectly honest. When my oldest was twelve, I dreaded him turning thirteen. I knew what to do with babies, toddlers, and school-aged kids. They were a known entity.
But teenagers were mysterious and scary. And having a thirteen-year-old made me sound old. I wanted no part of it.
Then, someone dropped a nugget of wisdom that changed my attitude. She said, “You know, when he wakes up on his thirteenth birthday, he’s still going to be the same kid he was when you told him goodnight. And you’re still going to be his mom.”
This realization made me realize that I was as ready as I was ever going to be to be the mom of a teenager.
Does that mean I haven’t had moments of head-scratching confusion as I look at these man-children of mine? No way. In fact, it’s happened more times than I’d like to admit. But if I have learned anything over the past three years, it’s that I still have so much to learn.
Advice from the Trenches
Just like we all used to reach for all the pregnancy and child-rearing books we could find as new moms, we still need to call in the experts from time to time. And who is more experienced than other mothers?!
How to Parent Joyfully During the Teen Years
A while ago, I was faced with a situation with my son that made me wonder if I had any clue what I was doing. I wondered what advice the older, more experienced moms I know and trust would give to the mom of a newly minted teen. Here’s what they had to say.
When I polled the more experienced moms of teens, this one word was mentioned again and again. My dear friend’s mother said, “Always be willing to listen, even if it’s not something you want to hear.”
Another mom offered that her family has a rule of no phones during dinner. With no phones, she says, the teens talk and talk about whatever they want. The parents simply listen and listen.
Think about that. In and amongst everything they say is the good stuff, the meat of how they think and feel. Don’t just listen to their words. Listen to their body language, sleep patterns, activities, and appetites. And mamas, listen to your own gut. If things seem “off,” they most likely are. Remember, the same God-given instinct that told you when a toddler’s fever was more than just a fever is and always will be your best tool for navigating the tumultuous teen years.
2. Be Selective
Not everything has to be a big deal. A teacher at my child’s school said, “Pick your battles wisely. Not all battles are worth it.”
My cousin reminded me to ask, “Will this matter in five years?”
Ask yourself: is this an inconvenience, or are the consequences eternal? If it’s a problem that can be fixed with minimal effort, fix it and move on. But if it affects their soul, their morality, or that of other people, then it’s definitely something to spend more time and effort to make right.
3. Consistency is Key
My aunt said, “Don’t change your rules. Be true to yourself.”
Teenagers can spot BS a mile away. They also like to test their boundaries. Staying consistent, staying true to who and what they know you stand for, will help them to do so, too.
Another friend said, “Raising teenagers starts when you are raising babies. I feel like if you did what you were supposed to do back when they were toddling around, it has paved the highway of the teen years.”
You spend your child’s whole life forming a strong foundation and relationship. Count on that and grow from it.
It’s so tempting to take the easy way out. But sticking to your guns is so much more beneficial in the long run. And what is this parenting gig except the longest of the long runs? We are in it for the long haul and heaven is our goal. A little persistence goes a long way.
4. Show Affection
Now is not the time to stop those hugs and kisses, sisters. In their hyper-sexualized and sensual worlds, teens need to be reminded of real, holy, and pure love. And, quite honestly, you need to hug them as much as they need to hug you.
There will be a time, most likely more than one, when you will need to wrap your arms around your child and remind yourself that he still is your baby. That walking, talking sack of hormones and sass is the same one that used to suck her thumb and curl up in your lap after naps. Bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh. And no matter what idiotic thing they may have done, you belong to each other.
No matter what our kids are going through, we need to love them through it. I can’t even count the number of times I have turned back to this advice. And you know what It always works. No matter the phase, no matter the stage. No matter what ludicrous stunt they pull or ignorant and surly words they say. Always, always answer with love.
Want to Know More?
Now, remember those scary article titles at the beginning of the post? While very much real, they probably aren’t what you want to be reading right now. Here, however, are some great Catholic resources you can turn to for entertainment and encouragement as you set about going through those wild and wooly teen years:
- BIS’s own Mary Ruth Hackett’s blog Parenting with Peer Review is very helpful.
- Dr. Greg Popcak has written several books on Catholic parenting.
- Sarah Swafford, Jason & Crystalina Evert, and Chris Stefanik all have great websites and/or books that can help you bridge the gap with your teen about more sensitive topics.
Happy parenting, sisters! Find joy in your teens every day. Because, as I’m finding out, these years fly by all too quickly. Are you a parent of teens? How do you find joy amidst the transition?
Beth Williby is a mom of four pretty amazing humans and has been married to her college sweetheart for almost twenty years. She does her best praying through singing and feeding the people she loves. Having grown up in the Midwest, she now calls Northeast Florida home. You can find out more about her here.