I didn’t think I’d make it. There were some days early on I thought it was either gonna be him or me, that both of us would not survive adolescence. Thankfully, now that my firstborn is knocking on adulthood’s door, I can almost make out the slightest sliver of light at the end of the teen hell tunnel. Why didn’t anyone tell me it was going to be this hard?
It’s common knowledge that 2- and 3-year-olds can be ridiculously exhausting and frustrating, and most moms eagerly admit to their difficulties and offer advice and wisdom on how to cope. But teenagers? I felt many times like I was wandering lost in the teenage desert with no playgroup moms around to boost my mothering confidence. And although there are certainly perks to having older and more independent kids, these last few years have been the most fun I never, ever want to have again—EVER. But lucky me, I get to do it three more times! The difference is, this time, I know better, thanks to my own experiences and some very honest and blunt advice from other moms of teens.
If you have a newly minted 13-year-old, for your own mental sanity, keep these tips handy because when you find yourself lost in the teen hell desert, these will serve not only as your map, but also as a big ‘ol glass of thirst-quenching perspective wine.
1. That really important part of their brain that actually thinks isn’t fully developed yet.
You’ve read this, you know this, and you’re ready to understand this, but nothing can prepare you for when your once brilliant and never-in-trouble child decides there’s no real consequence for anything. That lack of fully functioning frontal lobe translates into your 15-year-old saying insane things like, “What do you mean I can’t stay out until 2 a.m.? What’s the big deal, Mom?” They are clueless.
2. Repeat after me: This conversation is over.
Learn it, live it, love it. And plan to use it over and over and over again.
3. Don’t react.
And you are really going to want to—and fiercely. You are going to want to pounce on everything from their snarky comebacks to their selfish one-liners, but just don’t. See below.
4. Pick your battles.
Learn what is important to argue about and what is ridiculous to argue about. Dirty laundry on the floor? Ridiculous. Grades? Important. Don’t sweat the sweaty clothes.
5. Always knock first.
Resist the urge to barge in. Trust me that you need to give a little warning knock prior to entering your teen’s room. Don’t ask me how I know this.
6. Be involved.
They will say they don’t want or need you to come to all their sports or extracurricular activities and events anymore, but they’re lying. You need to go! (But maybe not cheer quite so loudly.)
7. Be their first date.
Moms, take your sons out. Dads, you need to do the same with your daughters. And mom/daughter and father/son dates count too. One-on-one time with teenagers is as precious as gold, and it’s usually the only time they will open up and talk to you freely. Listen. Listen. Listen. Because the quieter you are, the more the more talking they will do.
8. Don’t take it personally.
In between all those great one-on-one dates you’re going to have, there is going to be plenty of silent treatment, non-answers, shoulder shrugs, eye rolling, grunts, ambivalence, and total disinterest in you on their part. One hour you will be their best friend. The next? Their worst enemy. It’s not personal—it’s age-appropriate.
9. Let them work out their own drama.
Now is the time to land the parenting helicopter. Unless they are in real danger, let the girls work out their girl drama and the boys, well, work out their girl drama on their own. Don’t negotiate, mediate, or stick your sniffing nose into some serious friendship crap where it does not belong.
10. Remove the phrase ‘My kids would never…’ from your vocabulary.
Do it now—because eating your words will never taste more horrible than when your little perfect Johnny goes off the deep end one night. And he will. And when your friend’s teen does the same thing? Call her up and offer support and a shoulder to lean on. You need supportive mom friends now way more than you ever did when you had preschoolers.
11. Explain the most basic things in the most basic way.
Remember that lack of brain frontal lobe thing? When trying to explain or teach them something pretty simple, often it’s best to explain it in the most primary way possible. Although they are capable of doing AP Calculus, they are not capable of learning how to parallel park correctly unless it is explained step by step by step—slowly. Oh, and you might want to learn some deep breathing exercises and anger management skills right about now.
12. Remember that one day they will come back and say thank you.
How am I so sure? Because for the past five years that I’ve been raising my teenagers, I call my mom almost every day and apologize for 1985 to 1990. That’s how. Your reward is coming too, in the form of really cool adults who are going to give you a gaggle of grandchildren. It will make wandering around that teen desert hell totally worth it. I’m sure of it. Plus, how great is that phone call gonna be one day from your kid saying, “Mom, sorry for my teen years.” So great.
The last, and probably most important thing you need to know, is you’re not alone in this. While you may feel like you are the only mom going through the birth pangs of pushing a teenager out into the world, you most certainly are not. It’s nearly impossible to tell from the outside that your friends’ teenagers are just as much a pain in the ass as yours, but trust me, they are. Behind the honor societies, sports accolades, and all the perceived perfection we are privy to see lies all the epic failures and teen meltdowns that we don’t see. Want to know how to really survive these years? Find your people. They’re the parents who think they’re doing miserably at parenting teens, when in reality, they’re doing one helluva job. Just like you.