Back in 2015, I was going to do a series with my then 20-year-old daughter about the things we’ve gone through and how it was raising a kid who repeated your life almost to the blueprint when it comes to the things you tried to protect her from. I found the thoughts really interesting because they shared a perspective that I probably would have shared as a teen but didn’t like while actively parenting her. Now that I am raising my youngest, who will enter her teen years in another few months, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my oldest daughter’s thoughts and see what I can gain from them. With her permission, I am sharing some thoughts from a [then] 20-year-old female on raising teens.
This post shares a lot about our family that I’ve never talked about publicly, as my oldest needs to be older before she learns what we went through right after she was born. I never want her to feel like her presence caused these changes, so instead she knows only that we went through some really difficult times and it was a perfect storm (new baby, divorce, grad school, promotion, and teen struggles all within 18 months) of opportunity for our family to fall apart in many ways. Today we are stronger in some ways because of them. In other ways, we will always be fractured unless God makes some leeway and heals hearts and minds. I’ve always been a firm believer that we all live our own path…you are about to see my oldest daughter lived one very similar to the one I led until I grew up and changed how I saw myself and the world around me. We all have our journeys.
(If you enjoy parenting perspectives from the generation we are raising, a few years ago my youngest and I made a video in which she shared her thoughts on parenting for a tween’s perspective on parenting.)
If you are a parent with a preteen or teenager, then you know that it can be an uphill battle with a boulder in your backpack and no water to drink sometimes. You try to set rules for us such as a curfew or when the right age to start dating is and it seems as though us teens just don’t like to follow them sometimes. In this article I am going to give you some insight into a teenager’s mind and why we do what we do.
First and foremost I would like to give you some food for thought. Let’s say that your daughter/son asks to go to a friends “chaperoned” party. At first you’re a little hesitant, right? You think well what if something bad happens, what if there’s no parents there, etc. Let me tell you something, thinking “what if” when it comes to a teen is never beneficial to either party involved because, anything that you can think of is a worse scenario in your head than in reality. Back to the subject though, you say yes after a lot of over thinking and a brief panic attack and you tell them to be home by 10, sharp. As expected but not anticipated, 10 o’clock comes around and your son/daughter is not in the driveway or in the house. So, what’s your next step? Text or call them, correct?
Well, let’s take a second to put you in his/her shoes. Your parents let you go to this party with your friends and you’re having a blast! You didn’t end up leaving the house until about 8 o’clock which only gives you two hours to party, which goes by very fast. Now, you take a look at the time and its 9:58, your friend that brought you is still having fun and tells you you’ll leave in a little bit so, you put your phone away and continue to have fun while you wait for your friend to be ready to leave. Back to you, the parent, at this point you’re contemplating whether to call them or wait it out for a bit. Wait it out! Calling them to yell or nag at them because it’s 10 and they’re not in your presence is just going to cause a scene in both your house and at the party and it’s going to cause an uncomfortable vibe in the air. 10:20 rolls around and they walk into the house and explain that their friend didn’t want to leave yet and they didn’t want to rush them, but thank you so much for letting him/her go and he/she had so much fun! The next step is yours to choose, you can either ground them for being 20 minutes late or you can be grateful that they were only 20 minutes late and tell them what to do next time they’re waiting on someone, the important thing is that you both handle the situation without fighting or yelling and you take a second to think about their feelings.
I know that being a parent can be pretty hard, I don’t know from experience but I know that I wasn’t the best kid in the world. My mom and I went through a lot of hard times in a span of about 4 years. From the ages of 13 to 17 were pretty tough for the both of us. My step dad left us after my sister was just a few months old, I started having trouble in school and at home because I didn’t want to listen to anyone. I thought, well if he can just leave with no warning then I can leave school with no warning and if my mom and little sister weren’t important enough to make him stay then it must have been my fault… I mean a 6-mont- old can’t make someone leave and they’ve been together since I was little so it must have been me. As much as it hurt to think like that, in my head it was true and the pain was real. My mom didn’t have a lot of rules, but the ones that she did have, I found it hard to follow sometimes. I would come home past when I was supposed to be home on occasion because I would leave my friend’s house when it was time for me to be stepping into my house or I would tell my mom some of the people that I was hanging out with or some of the things that we were doing but not all of it. It wasn’t to deceive her or just plain lie, it was because I was young and I didn’t want the fun to stop when so many other things seemed to not be going so well.
When I was 15, I had been in DCF for about a year, give or take. I had been doing a couple different types of narcotics and had already been to rehab once and plenty of hospitals. I was on a downward spiral with nowhere to turn for help, mainly because I didn’t look for help. I didn’t want it, if no one could stay to make sure that I was doing good then no one would stay long enough to help me get better or feel better inside. I stayed in a group home for 2 years and from there went to a foster home until i turned 18. These semi-permanent places helped me think a little differently. There were people that i developed awesome relationships with, male and female. These people helped me trust again because no matter what I said or did to try to push them away or make them believe that I didn’t need them, they always tried to talk to me, to get into my head and see where I was at mentally and emotionally. These people cared about helping me do well and making sure that I grew up to be the best person that I could be and had the tools to do it with. I am truly grateful for that.
Basically, what I hope take from all of this is that when we’re having trouble in school or with you, there is almost always a reason that doesn’t have to do with school or you. It may be a problem that you can help them fix on the outside or it may be a problem on the inside that you have to work with them day by day on. Don’t let him keep inside that he thinks that things that were out of his control were his fault. Don’t let her hide her glossy eyes without addressing why she felt the need to do a drug. Never let your kid go to bed upset or angry, even if it had nothing to do with you, always talk to them and find out what they’re thinking. We think very differently than adults do. At times we’re not logical and we’re not thinking of long term consequences to our actions, your guidance and general interest in your teens life will help mold a beautiful relationship where you won’t have to “wonder what they’re thinking” because you’ll be too busy finding out!
When your teen is having trouble, or appears to be, it is important to take a step back and put yourself in their shoes. Nagging and yelling at them will just make them feel defensive and possibly worse than they already felt. If they are late coming home, take a minute to think about what they’re doing before you call to rip them a new.. you know.. because, they’re most likely not trying to make you angry or break any rules, all they are doing is having fun. If you scold your kids for having fun then they will start to look for other fun things to do that you don’t know about. Just be open and honest with them, there is always a way to express your feelings without yelling or being snarky.
My oldest and I have a very open and honest relationship thanks to all we’ve been through but I don’t have it in me to endure ANY OF IT again. I have firm boundaries in place for my youngest and have established an environment conducive to strong guidelines (I’ve never been one to love rules) and proper decision making that will hopefully ensure my youngest is able to explore her teenage years in a more Gilmore Girls or Good Witch type of way than The Fosters. In fact, we’ve watched all three series to discuss what was positive, realistic, and much too media hyped and not okay for her. I figure my oldest and I lived painful enough teen years that my youngest can be the first to enjoy these times and celebrate growing up instead of feeling regret when she is older for the time she robbed herself of or for growing up way too quickly.
I’ve ensured I put her first in all things and that she understands why I have to work so hard as a single parent if she truly wants to attend an Ivy League school. This was something I never did with my oldest. I just worked and never took time to explain why I needed to do so. I just saw my role as parent to set the tone and hers to follow the guidelines set. The few rules I had were there to keep her safe and ensure she had a good childhood. Since I worked with youth, was a foster mother, and always had other kids around, I wanted to ensure they knew how to make decisions for themselves, but it was hard for her since I hadn’t demonstrated for her the best in decision-making skills. I had never realized how many of my secrets from my marriage she understood and overheard. Had I done so, I’m pretty sure I may have developed the courage to leave because I’d have seen the damage it was doing to her. But I was naive and wrapped up in pretending for so long that when all hit the fan and she was left to feel the residue, I wasn’t prepared to help her through it the way I should have been able to. I can’t go back, but I have ensured my youngest doesn’t have any outside interference and will never see her mother hurt in any way. This should be a great first step.
What are some of your parenting tips or favorite blog posts around raising teens? Share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.