I expected to have an advantage parenting teenagers, as a high school teacher.
Friends would tell me they were terrified of that stage and I would smile because teens are my favourite kind of people. They can be tenacious and fearless. Or unsteady, and open to encouragement. They will often tackle the world with a passion most adults lack.
But in spite of all my first-hand experience, it turns out educating teenagers is slightly (ahem) different than being Mom to one.
So I was basically at ground zero when our eldest entered his teen years.
Now that our oldest are 17, 15 and 13, I’ve had time to reflect on this parenting stage. And to help ease some of the stress and uncertainty for you, I’ve compiled eight things I wish someone had told me about parenting teenagers.
And if you could use practical ideas to connect with your teens during this stage, watch for a sign up form further down.
1. No one has this figured out
Not even the person who just came to your mind.
I hear you thinking, “But you don’t know so-and-so. Their teens are practically perfect.”
Nope. Not even them.
See your neighbour across the street, with the responsible kid who mows lawns? His parents are concerned he is going to implode from the pressure he puts on himself for high grades.
Your friend with the sweet daughter who is polite and personable? Her Mom worries she is too naive. When her Mom sets any limits, she slams doors and screams, “Why can’t you just trust me?”
Your son’s friend who seems like he would be the easiest kid to parent? His parents probably say the same thing about your teen who is testing you at every turn.
Comparison is a dangerous trap, typically based on fiction.
And this Mom who writes about parenting? She would tell you over coffee that she writes to figure things out. To be motivated to keep researching and to help others in their messy journey too. She has all the questions and false starts that come with this title of Mom. (can she stop writing in third person now?)
We are all just trying to figure this out.
And bless the teens who live with us as they also try to figure it out.
We are one big figuring out cluster and watching others out of the corner of our eye will leave us feeling defeated.
2. Parenting teenagers doesn’t have to be lonely
When our kids are little, we share stories like, “You’ll never believe what Johnny did today.” And then laugh and hear how other Johnnys did even crazier things. Like bite someone in daycare. Or throw a full-body tantrum on the floor of the grocery store.
But as kids grow, we have to realize their stories are no longer ours to share. And while their tantrums may be less public, they can be just as exhausting. Maybe even more so.
3. The hard bits of parenting teens make us stronger
Growth does not tend to happen when life feels easy.
How do we develop patience? By waiting in the van for our teenager. Again.
When does our prayer life deepen? As we watch the clock until our teen arrives home safely.
When are we reminded we are not in control as parents? Every day our teenager walks out the front door.
Every parent should read this book by Gary Thomas. I can not recommend it highly enough: Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes our Souls. His premise is so unique. It’s not about how to parent, but rather how we will change as we live in our parenting role.
Listen to the reflections of this Mom who was on speed-dial at every one of her son’s schools.
God worked in my life to change attitudes of bitterness, embarrassment and resentment into attitudes of grace, love and hope. These new attitudes developed out of pain, self-sacrfice and a little creativity….I needed to stop being mortified and start being modified…” ~ Devotions for Sacred Parenting
I wish someone had told me I would be deeply grateful for the most painful, heart-wrenching parts of parenting my teenagers.
4. Teenage wins count for double
Hugs from toddlers are endearing. But any win with a teenager?
That is a slow march to the podium, with our anthem ringing proud. A gold medal moment that deserves full press coverage. Even simple moments are causes for celebration:
- If your teen has been quiet for a week and then calls you to chat in her room? An Unexpected Win.
- “How was your day, Mom?” They-Remember-I’m-a-Human win.
- An unprompted shoulder rub from a teenager. Your-Massages-Are-Actually-Amazing-Now win.
I wish someone had told me how precious the wins would be when parenting a teenager.
Small parenting wins fill us with hope. Hope that despite our brokenness and impatience, God is creating kindness in our children. That despite their stumbling, our precious kids are experiencing their own victories – separate from ourselves. ~Lightly Frayed
5. Laughter is the secret sauce
Humour will be your sanity during bumps in the road.
But here’s the tricky part. You may not be able to always share the jokes with your teen. At times, humour may ease the tension. But other times it may be met with an eyeroll of epic proportions.
Some teens respond well to levity, and some get downright annoyed. And what works on Monday will probably not work by Tuesday. Good luck, dear parents of teens.
A few years ago, I dropped off one of my boys at the theatre. As he hopped out of the van he shocked us by saying, “Thanks, Mom.” As the sliding door closed, his younger brother whispered, “Now that’s progress.” Laughter helps the whole family survive bumps.
One Lightly Frayed reader sent me the ultimate compliment:
There’s the kind of laughter that is joyfully cleansing and cathartic because the spirit behind it is good-hearted and funloving and understanding. It has a way of capturing the truth poignantly and gently dislodges things in us. It leaves us feeling lighter, happier and more hopeful. It’s this kind of laughter— this spiritual and cathartic laughter—that I experience when I read your writing about family life and parenthood. Mom of four
Parents of teens love this free printable. It has 24 quick, actionable ideas to connect with your teens. Grab your copy here:
5. Self-care is important
I wish someone had emphasized the important of finding an outlet, especially while parenting teenagers. It’s important to find a hobby or activity that will replenish us and fuel us for the next lap.
Do you have an outlet? Maybe jogging, reading, baking, swimming or gathering friends? Or origami, knitting, karaoke or golfing? Laughing at memes?
One friend told me her kids would point to her running shoes and send her out the door if they sensed she was prickly.
An outlet of any form can help you relieve the stress that can come from parenting teenagers.
So when a recent medical screening went “off-script” (ow), I turned to writing therapy. And discovered the similarities between parenting a teenager and having a mammogram are simply uncanny.
6. Simple tools help, as we parent teenagers
I wish someone had reminded me to keep professionally developing as a Mom of teens.
When my Bigs were Little, I devoured parenting resources.
- How to get your kids to sleep through the night
- Secrets to potty train in a week (ha!)
- Ideas to keep kids occupied while you make dinner.
Mr. Google and my library card gave me solid advice.
But somewhere along the journey, parenting challenges weren’t as straightforward. And I stepped back from problem-driven research.
In my quest to keep growing and keep learning, I have renewed my commitment to read. And one of the first books I picked up was Emmerson Eggerich’s Mother and Son: The Respect Effect.
It has been lifechanging. I am learning to speak ‘blue’ and approach my teenagers in a way that does not make them defensive. I am more cognizant that I am parenting someone’s future husband (x4).
Tackling issues head-on can feel overwhelming, but start by signing out one book from a trusted author and diving in.
7. Watching a teenager dream, is profound
Pause the carpooling, laundry and meal prep long enough to zoom out for a moment. We made a person. We got through potty training. And now we can watch them get ready to take on the world. Phew!
Opportunities we offered our children when they were little, may become passions.
Values we prayed would take hold, may grow deeper than we even imagined.
Dreams that were sparked years ago, may come into fruition.
8. The One who created them, cares even more than we do
I have saved the best for last.
If you understand this truth, it is a sigh of relief when we feel certain our efforts are failing. As a Christ-follower, this encompasses my hope as a parent.
Our Creator, who knew our children while we were still waddling around pregnant, cares deeply about their present and their future. Even more than we do.
We do not have to walk this journey alone. Use discouragment as a reminder to pursue truth. Read your Bible. Listen to truth-filled podcasts. Read hope-filled words from experts.
Mark Gregston’s teachings at Heartlight Ministries is a great place to begin. Here are a few of his articles:
In many ways, parenting a teenager can feel similar to our early days of parenting, where we had more questions than answers. Especially when it feels like everyone else makes it look easy.
And like those early days, there will be times we enjoy the ride and times we would give anything to hop off and walk on solid ground for a while.
Behind every great young adult is a parent who worried they did it all wrong during those teen years. So whatever the stage you are in with your teenager, I want you to know you are not alone.
If you need encouragement as a parent of a teen, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m one note away.