Raising Teens Is Lonely – And Not Just Because Our Kids Need Us Less

by Christine Organ
Melanie Acevedo/Getty

Raising teens is a wild ride. This isn’t earth-shattering news. The cliches are true, for the most part anyway. So I wasn’t surprised by the excessive eye-rolling, the sulking, or the retreats to their bedroom in silence. What I wasn’t prepared for was how lonely this stage of parenting would be.

When my kids were younger, there was this sweet spot – not just the sweet spot of childhood, but of parenting too. Your kids weren’t hanging off your legs anymore and there was this we’re-all-in-this-chaos-together camaraderie among parents. Then middle school started, and things changed. The silence got louder, the conversation changed, and the loneliness started to set in.

When my oldest son started middle school, I found that people often asked, “how’s your kid like middle school?” with this weird trepidation. I would ask it too. Most of the time, people answered with a bland, “It’s fine.” Sometimes people would even say, “It’s going great.” And they might actually mean it. But other times, you’d get a response along the lines of “Oh, you know…” followed by a big heavy sigh. And you’d nod, because yes, you did know. Everything is not fine. It is so not fine.

The feeling – this not-fine-ness – continues on through middle school, into high school. The trouble is, it’s hard to name what makes is so not fine. It isn’t really one specific thing, and just because it’s “not fine,” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad either. It’s a lot. The highs are high, the lows are low, and you feel lost most of the time.

The trouble is, no one talks about this. No one talks about how lonely – how goddamn lonely – raising teens can be.

I wasn’t prepared for this shift, and it’s been awkward and strange to fumble through this wild stage of parenting in silence. Other than my husband (and thank god, for him), navigating the challenges of raising teens feels a lot like being in a boat in the storm in the dark. Here’s why…

Your stories aren’t just yours anymore.

There is something far more intimate and vulnerable about teens’ struggles with school, friendships, and relationships than tantrums and diaper blowouts. When trudging through the struggles of raising teens, we can no longer vent about the gory details of motherhood because those stories aren’t really ours to tell anymore. They belong to our kids, and it’s our obligation to protect their privacy.

The emotional demands of parenting almost break you.

You spend far less time making kids’ meals and snacks, getting them dressed and overseeing their bath time, but far more time listening to friend drama and crying with them when they don’t make the basketball team. The physical demands of motherhood are fewer but the emotional demands are enough to nearly break you. You stay up late drying tears, and you wonder about what’s going on in your kid’s life because they are very clearly upset but won’t tell you why and you need to respect their privacy but — man, oh man — it’s hard to not make it better for them. But you can’t talk about it – except with maybe your spouse or partner – so it can feel like you’re the only one dealing with these challenges, like you’re the only who feels like your failing at all things all the time. (Spoiler alert: you’re not.)

Our kids have bustling social lives – which makes it harder for us to have one.

Our kids no longer need us to be gatekeepers of their social calendar, but because their social lives are busting at the seams, we spend a lot – and I mean, A LOT – of time driving them all around town. We drive them to sports practices and music class and their friends’ houses. Our role shifts from cruise director to chauffeur pretty damn quickly, and with it goes our own social lives.

You’re low-key terrified. All. The. Time.

Just the thought of them behind a thousand pound piece of machinery is enough to cause a panic attack. Sexting? Drinking? Drugs? Send help ASAP please.

Are they drinking? Are they getting into trouble? Are they making good choices? Have we taught them enough about consent and safe sex? The risks are endless and seemingly around every corner. If we think about it too much, we might crumble into the fetal position.

Then there’s the really terrifying fears. Have we done enough? Do they know how special they are and how much we love them? Have we done right by them? Have we been the parent they needed and deserved? Or have we fallen short? By how much? And worst of all, what if we’ve failed them?

These fears are too distressing to think about too much, so we push them aside the best we can. But they still gnaw at the edges of our psyche, of our heart. These fears keep us up at night, lying in bed in a cold sweat with our breath catching in our throat, wondering if anyone else knows this feeling. But we can’t talk about it. Or we don’t.

Instead, we share memes about slammed doors and mood swings. We share photos with hashtags like #HoCo2021 and #maketimeslowdown.

While, deep down, we’re all a little bit lonely and low-key terrified, praying to the universe that we got it right.