The universe has its own sense of humor when it comes to raising a teenager. And while most mamas attempt to solve problems and avoid issues, most answers backfire when raising teenagers.
Even though we spend over 15 years studying the formulas, it’s still an impossible test to pass. The test rules are simple and made up of a list of statements. As your child grows into a teen, you just put a check when done.
A few examples: Your teen is well balanced and loves talking about what’s on their mind.
Your teen always keeps their room super clean and helps around the house without being asked.
Your teenager perfectly manages their phone time and doesn’t give into peer pressure.
Any checks on those so far?
No? Not even one?
I thought so.
I remember when my two beautiful daughters fell from a pink cloud right into my arms. My vision for their future was all about family, love, respect, and caring. How could it be otherwise? And I spent their entire childhood creating moments that would help them make the right decisions and be true to themselves with the understanding that family always comes first.
It all went as planned.
Until one day, I’m not really sure when exactly, my angels became imposters. Not at the same time, of course. That would have been too easy, like when they get chicken pox, and you quarantine them all together. Problem solved.
No, they underwent this turbulent transformation with little overlapping, stretching out frustrations to the max.
Talk about a rude awakening! What had I done? How could I have created the exact opposite of what I strived so hard to achieve?
I was heartbroken. Yes, it’s the right word. And I questioned my value as a mother, listing everything I did wrong because of course, I was responsible. Moms are always responsible right?
I wasn’t responsible, and neither are you.
After a few months into the human tornado, I decided to take back my emotions, center my rational self and learn to make sense of it all.
1. You are not responsible.
Guilt is the first and most important thing to get rid of. Not easy, but vital. As mothers who have always provided for their babies, we do have a tendency to think we are the reasons things happen.
But when it comes to teens, this no longer applies. They are clearly going through a metamorphosis, signed by nature. And not by how you raised them. The difficulty lies in watching them go through these rocky changes without constant intervention, in addition to dealing with your own feelings of being left out.
2. Yesterday’s choice.
At first, when one of my daughters did something completely off track (in my book), I immediately tried to offer other solutions or possibilities. I thought it would shed some light on her urgent choices.
Except that a few days later, her choices had changed. Not because of my infinite wisdom, of course, but because teens change their minds faster than a yo-yo when the string doesn’t get stuck.
Don’t waste your efforts explaining, solving or pursuing the plethora of questions, unless you are convinced they genuinely believe in their choice. And even then be prepared for everything to turn upside down again.
What was true yesterday is no longer true today. And it will probably be different again tomorrow and until they are well in their 20’s.
Strong nerves alert. Keep that patient muscle active.
3. Don’t provide, just listen.
Most teens don’t spill their thoughts easily. I used to take it personally when I could hear the air particles rub together in the living room because my kids kept silent.
Much later I figured out this was normal. Depressing but normal. Nerve-wracking but normal.
Don’t take your teen’s behavior personally.
I used to ride an emotional roller coaster when driving them to school between long periods of silence or outbursts of incomprehension. The radio button saved me more than once. This was not my idea of being a close-knit family. And then out of the blue, they utter words. Incoherent or short words but their mouths move and sound comes out.
At that precise moment, you think happily and with relief that things are finally getting back to normal.
It’s just a fleeting moment in time and it will pass, unfortunately. But when they talk, you need to listen. Nothing is going back to like it was, and no they are not talking because they think you’re the best person to confide in.
Don’t be like me, always tempted to provide a solution. And if I don’t really understand the problem (teen incoherence, remember?), then I tend to keep asking questions until I can fix it.
That worked for 15 years. Ha! Not anymore.
Unless they are explicitly asking for your opinion, avoid offering anything. It will push them back into the safety of their silent bubble and confirm that moms knows nothing because we go too fast for their thought process.
All we can do is be there if they need anything.
4. Back off and give sporadically.
Remember when you’d do anything for your child? Going out of your way was the norm, and putting their best interests before yours was almost a rule. I continued to do this as my child became a teenager and of course, it backfired.
The crucial point between childhood and young adulthood is a stormy passage for teens. Their minds are like a puzzle with missing pieces and nothing really fits.
And guess what? We represent the childhood they want to move away from in their quest for young adulthood. Which means the more we want to come closer, the more they avoid us.
Back off a little. Remove yourself from the center and focus on the big picture.
Eventually, they will come forth when they feel we approve of them no matter what.
5. Keep rules basic.
I knew I’d deal with my kid’s teenage years eventually. But I never expected to be sucked into their whirlwind with such force nor have their exasperating behavior test my endless patience to this point.
Yet it happened.
I say blue, they say green. When I say okay, green, they go back to blue. This constant resistance over time is exhausting. Not to mention the nods that clearly say I hear you, but actually, they don’t.
Their wide-open ears are exclusive for friends as their fingers talk secretly on screens of all sizes… and I got very little except rolling eyes, and I’ll do it later.
At first, my emotions ran rampant simply because I had raised these creatures but no longer recognized them. Maybe they were someone else’s kids, and they lost their way?
And then I went back to basics. Basic rules. Basic words. Basic expectations.
Bend a few rules but keep essential house rules. Yes, they have to participate, pick up their stuff.
Don’t repeat and don’t it for them. Clearly assign house chores because no, they don’t live alone on a far off island.
Avoid monologues… If you want them to hear the words that come out of your mouth, make them short, simple and to the point.
You want them to do something? You don’t agree with their choice?
Unless it’s dangerous, let it go.
6. Remember the child.
When you’re short on patience, or if your emotional well being is almost out the window, take a moment to breathe deeply. Remind yourself that your child is still your child and not some mutant from a sci-fi movie. Of course, they no longer need to be overprotected but they definitely still need your love.
Things will change many times over, and you’ll both experience unexpected growing pains in different ways.
In the meantime, focus on one situation at a time and implement simple changes in communication to avoid overload.
It may take time, but teens give us plenty of opportunities to practice.
So go forth with your newly acquired mama wisdom and be very kind to yourself.