A Word About Raising Teenagers

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I read this great article last week about parenting teenagers and part of what’s so hard about it, and it totally resonated with me.  You should go read it right now, whether you’re the parent of a teenager or are even remotely close to the edge of this particular minefield of parenting.  It’s a great piece.  And it’s part of a greater whole of the conversation I seem to be having with everyone I know, and plenty of people I don’t.  I’ve written a fair amount about motherhood (and parenthood in general) on Petit Elefant, and the things I’m figuring out along the way, but the teenage years are a whole other bag.

See, here’s the thing: when you parent a baby, or a toddler, or young child there are rule books aplenty.  Entire doctoral dissertations are written about the different parenting styles, ad nauseum; attachment parenting, free-range, baby-wise.  But once you get to a certain stage of parenting life, you have to let it all go.  None of the styles really matter anyway because your little human will establish himself, (or herself) with or without your help, thankyouverymuch.  None of the books matter, (spoiler alert: they didn’t matter in the beginning either).  We’re all winging it, and almost universally, teenagers are hard to raise.  But we’re not still sitting in weekly music groups with other parents and a collective of children.   We’re not meeting at the park for play dates and grousing about teething babies and weaning and sleep woes.  We’re all huddled in our own homes, praying we’re doing it right on our own, seldom sharing the nitty gritty details for fear of judgement that we’re doing it all wrong.

parenting teenagers

So I was really happy a few weeks ago when a friend of mine talked to me for over an hour about her experience of raising teenagers.  She’s several years down the road I’m currently traveling, and I appreciated her honesty so much.  We’re all walking around talking about parenting older kids like we’ve got it figured out, but the truth is, most of the time we’re just holding our breath while they grow out of the bad stages; not unlike toddlers but with messier life consequences.

This particular friend of mine is on the other side of some really, really hard and painful stuff, and she was so honest with me about the specifics of a particular child and a time she wasn’t sure they would make it to their 21st birthday.  How things were so bad at one point she and her husband were looking at every alternative to get their kid out of the country as they moved through the bad choices and serious life consequences.   And I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately.  How parenting older children is a lot like anything else painful in life; the death of a loved one, an excruciating diagnosis, or divorce: sometimes you just have to keep breathing through the pain, one day at a time.  Eventually it becomes less of a nightmare to wake up every morning.

Just because we’re not all sharing the particulars of our children’s lives doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.  Just because we’re not all sharing with the world the specific ways our children are screwing up and breaking our hearts doesn’t mean we’re ignoring it, or pretending we’re better at parenting than anyone else.  Sometimes the heartbreak is too much to talk about, and honestly, the story isn’t entirely ours in the first place.  Sharing it is a dishonesty in itself.

hawaiian sunset

The painful, beautiful truth about parenting is that we launch an entire human life, and after awhile that life isn’t ours to offer up anymore, for the good and the bad.  It’s not our story to tell.  These kids are actual people, with full futures and interesting lives ahead, and their mistakes as teenagers really shouldn’t be broadcast to the world.

So give yourself a break.  If you look around every once in awhile you’ll see through the shiny veneer of the fellow struggling parents, travelers walking next to you on the broken road. Give each other a nod of acknowledgement, a smile of support and solidarity and know that the particulars of the difficulty aren’t important to know. It’s all hard, but eventually we settle into the choices our children make, and someday, eventually, it will get easier to breathe.

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Allison

Hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!

11 Comments

  1. Heather :

    I would add that if you think you have it down, watch out! Something around the corner will teach you a lesson. Lovely writing. Perhaps my favorite part though was the chuckle I got at the spoiler alert.

    • Allison :

      Oh, Heather isn’t that the truth. Every time things are a little too quiet I think, ‘CRAP, here comes something.’ And yes, spoiler alert: it totally bites! :)

  2. Betsy :

    “Sometimes the heartbreak is too much to talk about, and honestly, the story isn’t entirely ours in the first place. ” I am living this. Wanting so much to share with other mothers, via my writing, about what amazing and heart wrenching revelations occur each and every day in our home, but I can’t. I won’t. Not unless it’s something that can be generalized or sanitized in a way that makes it seem more like a story and like less of a betrayal of trust. A good reminder that we are all doing this, alone together.

    • Allison :

      Yes, that’s exactly it Betsy! It’s excruciating. It was so much easier when they were younger and we could all commiserate together. But the trust of my kids is so much more important than a temporary salve of my wounds. We can do this! We can.

  3. Jen :

    Starting the “parenting a teenager journey” with my 13 year old son has been the start of the hardest road of parenting to date. Yes, we need to talk about it! I’ve turned to a mentor for support and it has been invaluable!

    • Allison :

      Jen, I think that must be how generations of mothers have made it through this: MENTORS. We all need at least one who’s on the other side of this! It’s excruciating, isn’t it?

  4. Kim Hacking :

    It’s all about GRACE and LOVE. Great article and feedback Allison. :)

    • Allison :

      It SO is, Kim. I’m sure you know this very well. Thank you. xx

  5. Jen M :

    I know this so well! My teens are fantastic, but they still have struggles and so do I. The isolation is REAL! I miss having friends to talk to about life and all the ups and downs of parenting. I can’t figure out how I went from having lots of friends to talk to about parenting to having none, but I don’t know how to fix it either. How does a grown woman that stays home make friends?

    • Allison :

      Jen, it is real and it’s really hard sometimes. I work and travel a lot and I still feel terrifically isolated in this particular avenue of parenting. It’s a tough thing, balancing the privacy of our children and our own fears about parenting. Hang in there. :)