As you watch your kids grow into their teenage years and begin to tackle life, you know that they will inevitably experience heartache and disappointment. You feel every painful moment along with them as if you were still attached by an imaginary umbilical cord. Helping them through the process can be as painful for you as it is for them.
School pressures, friendships coming and going, and romantic relationships comprise an often rocky terrain. Once we’ve worked through these situations a few times in adulthood, we usually manage to develop a method we use to help us cope. But helping our kids navigate those feelings for the first time is probably one of the hardest moments in parenting that we will have to deal with. For me, teaching my kids healthy and reasonable coping mechanisms, all while my heart was breaking for them, was a challenge of parenting teens that I wasn’t prepared for.
1. Friendships: They will come and go.
As your teens enter high school and leave the elementary and middle school years behind, friendships are bound to change. They will meet new people or grow apart from friends with whom they used to be inseparable. Sometimes it’s their choice and other times it can be a painful, involuntary tearing apart of a friendship, as agonizing as a romantic breakup.
I try to teach my kids that it is OK to be sad, that they should take time to grieve the loss of the friendship. But I also want them to know that they have to accept the loss of the friendship, that sometimes people grow in different directions, and this is a sad but unavoidable part of life. I encourage them to wish the best for their former friend despite their hurt feelings, so they can move forward without resentment.
2. Competition: There will always be someone doing better than you.
Whether it’s schoolwork or sports, as your teen’s social circle expands, there will inevitably be someone who seems better off. Even as adults, we get caught in the comparison game, on social media as well as in real life. When feelings of envy and inadequacy emerge, I remind my kids (and myself) that, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
My hope is that if I say this enough times by adulthood it will be a knee-jerk reaction for my kids. Then when they start to compare themselves to others, they will be more likely to stay on their own course, and drop the bitterness.
3. Communicating: Face-to-face is best.
As an adult, I’ve made the mistake of letting communication by email or text convey messages that would have best been discussed face-to-face. Because I chose the easier way, my message was misconstrued. Today’s teens communicate almost solely via social media—meeting friends on Snapchat is the new normal.
However, feelings and difficult subjects are best handled in person, and I hope I can convince my teens of this. We’ve already had more than one misunderstanding between friends that could have been avoided if it had been tackled face-to-face from the start.
4. Control: What we wish for them isn’t always what they want for themselves.
This is really a lesson for the parent. A number of times, I have been at a place of conflict when I want a particular thing so badly for my daughter, only to realize that she didn’t want it at all for herself.
One of the hardest parts of parenting is realizing that the hopes and dreams we have for our children may not be the same as what they would choose for themselves. After hundreds of hours playing a chosen sport, your child may suddenly abandon it. The college plans you imagined for your child may not interest them in the least.
Sometimes the disappointment feels personal, as if it were our challenge rather than our teen’s. Remembering that they come through us, and we are meant to guide them, not control them, can be a tough pill to swallow.
5. Change: We must adapt as our children grow into themselves.
My biggest realization as my daughters have grown is that the road meanders and changes, ever-evolving as we grow together, and that we both have to be flexible and adaptable. I’ve learned that as my children change and discover new things about the world and about themselves, I have to be ready to embrace those changes as well.
I can offer all my hard-earned wisdom until I run out of breath, but in the end, my child’s life is in her own hands. And after all, that is the point of parenting, isn’t it?
This post originally appeared on urbanmoms.ca.