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I have four children — a teen, two tweens, and a kindergartner. I had lots of childcare experience before becoming a mom. I started babysitting when I was 12, and from there I was a nanny, worked at a daycare, and tackled other various babysitting jobs while attending high school and college. Of course, all of this is great, but it’s not the same as being someone’s mom.
Parenting little ones was easy for me. Of course, there were many diaper changes, sick days, and middle-of-the-night feedings, but I was confident in my abilities. In the blink of an eye, my oldest became a teenager, and all the sudden, I felt rather helpless and unsure. Was I mom enough for her? Was I screwing up my kid? What was I doing too much of? At the same time, she was — as teens are — more resistant, more opinionated, and more moody.
This isn’t my first rodeo with teens. I taught college students for nine years, most of whom were 18 years old. Science tells us that a person’s brain isn’t fully developed until age 25. I knew raising teens wouldn’t be a walk in the park, because my students were challenging. I naively figured that raising teens would come naturally to me — just like raising younger kids. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t.)
I have leaned back on what I know about the importance of attachment and connection. In some ways, raising teens isn’t all that different than raising younger children. Some of their needs are absolutely the same — if not even more intense during the teen years. I committed to connecting with my teen—and it’s worked well. Of course, we still deal with the ups and downs of teendom, but we have a stable foundation to go back to when times get tough.
I Tuck My Teen Into Bed Every Night
Remember when our kids were babies? We’d read them a bedtime story and rock them to sleep. The calming routine was a sacred time. Our teens aren’t any different. Yes, they yearn for independence — but they also want safety, reassurance, and empathy.
Every night, I tuck my teen daughter into bed after we hang out for a few minutes and chat. Sometimes I utilize conversation cards (a stack of cards with questions on each one). Sometimes I play the “ask me anything” game which can be a lot of fun for us. Sometimes we color or draw. We’ve also done meditations together. It’s amazing what’s shared in this low-pressure, calm environment. Each child is different. My oldest tween prefers to play a game together.
I Listen To My Teen More Than I Talk
Too often, conversations with teens becomes a pissing match where everyone is heated. Teens are trying to establish themselves as young adults — but not always in the most mature ways. Parents are navigating the whole, “I’m still your parent” bit. In essence, parent-teen conversations can quickly become power struggles.
I’ve learned from reading one of my favorite authors, Rachel Macy Stafford, that parents should listen way more than they talk. Now, sometimes my teen is in the I’m-not-saying-a-word-mood, which is fine. But when my teen is in the mood to talk — I encourage it. Sometimes she needs to vent, sometimes she needs to problem-solve, and always, she’s seeking empathy. Over time, with the basis of a trusting relationship, the teen also seeks parental guidance. I’ve found that the less I talk, the more space there is for my teen.
I Coach My Teen to Problem-Solve
I once heard someone say that we aren’t raising children; we’re raising adults-to-be. This sentiment stuck with me, and I considered how one thing I desperately want for my children is for them to be problem-solvers. You see, many of my college students didn’t have this ability. They had parents who constantly rescued them from any sort of confusion or conflict, which meant these young adults lacked problem-solving skills.
When my teen is talking to me (because, remember, I’m listening), after she shares a difficult situation she’s facing, my response is, “What do you want to do next?” I might phrase this as, “What do you think should happen?” or “What action will you take?” I’ve raised my kids, as my own mom did, to understand that they are in charge of themselves. Problem-solving is empowering. I listen to my teen’s ideas and again, I provide guidance — gently.
I Let My Teen Self-Discipline
Now, you may be thinking this doesn’t make any sense. Won’t a teen choose the “easiest” punishment? I didn’t say punishment; I said discipline. Discipline is guidance. Punishment is usually unrelated to the offense and is reactive.
For example, my teen had been listening to music on her headphones way too loudly — often. I was growing frustrated, since I don’t want her hearing ruined! I had a rule in place that any of my kids who violated our “reasonable volume” rule would have their headphones put away for a period of time. When my teen, once again, violated the rule, I asked her, “How long of a break do you need from your headphones in order to stop using them at a damaging volume?” She concluded (much to my surprise!) that a month was fair, so that’s what we did. This again prompts her to problem solve, and I’m not the “bad guy” — but still the parent. We also discussed why it’s important to protect her hearing.
I Share What It Was Like When I Was a Teen
Both my oldest tween and teen daughters love when we hang out in one of their rooms, and they get to ask me anything they want about me as a teen. We’ve had powerful (and necessary) conversations about sexism, safety, relationships, and much more.
Taking the pressure off my daughters — even momentarily — and putting the ridiculousness onto my younger self is incredibly fun, but also informative. I’ve shared about my teen boyfriends — who were, frankly, total losers — and some of the antics they tried to pull, and my mom (their grandma)’s response. For example, the time my mom caught my then-boyfriend sleeping in our childhood treehouse; he’d run away from home because he was mad at his mom. The girls cackled. We would then talk about what’s important in a romantic relationship, and some of the qualities they may or may not want in a crush. (They relentlessly tease me about said boyfriend — which I welcome.) Sharing what I was like as a teen humanizes me – but also humbles me – to my kids.
My entire goal is to build a trusting relationship between my children and me. The goal is not total control (how unrealistic anyway) or constant punitive measures. Sure, the teen years can be very bumpy — but it’s not an impossible stage of parenting. All of us will make plenty of mistakes, but with a connective foundation, we always have our mutual love and respect to fall back on.
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