Oh, wait, that title should read, “Help! I Have a Teenager Now!” Of course, it might seem one in the same though. A funny thing seems to happen almost the moment our children become teenagers- they seem to morph into something so very different that it’s hard to know if they are possessed or if they are just hormonal.
Even the best of kids will go through a bit of this experience. As parents it’s hard to see our children, our babies, work their way through this tumultuous time. We want to tell them that this stage won’t last forever. We want to take way the stress and heartaches that we know that they will go through. And we might even want to shake some serious sense into their pretty little heads! Of course, most of the time we can’t take those approaches because well, we are mom and dad and we have never been teens so how would we know what they are going through? You are reading the sarcasm, right?
So what do we do to help our teens through this time in their lives? If you are a stay at home, homeschooling parent like me, you are surrounded by your cherubs each and every day, day in and day out. You ride the crazy train all day, every day. You don’t want your spouse to come home to find you in the corner, with a dry erase board that says, “Help!” in scrawled handwriting from dealing with the rollercoaster ride that teens often put us through. Of course if you are a working parent you don’t want to come home after a long day at work only to have to face off in an epic battle of wills and hormones the minute you walk through the door. So what do we do? Without picking up and draining a wine bottle each night, how do we cope through these wild years?
First of all, remember, this possessed-like child is still your baby. You know the one that you counted his tiny fingers and toes the minute he was born. The one that gave you open mouthed slobbery kisses when he was a toddler and you reveled in each and every kiss. The one who as a preschooler couldn’t pronounce some of his words which you thought was so cute that you still use those words today. That same child that couldn’t wait to come home from grade school and tell you about his day, sharing his joy and excitement and looking to you to hug him when he had a bad day. Remember that this teenager is still that person, just in a bigger body that has raging, crazy hormones. When you can remember that it’s so much easier to deal with the ups and downs that come along with teens who are struggling to find out who they are and where they belong in this world.
The second thing I do to get through this stage is to remember that my children are overall great kids. I think about all their good qualities when that urge to shake some sense into them threatens to overtake me. They are kind and loving, giving and compassionate. They say yes mam and no mam, please and thank you to not just me but to others as well. They snuggle with their younger siblings, play dress up with them and beg to go to the park so they can play tag and push them on the swings. They constantly ask me if there is anything they can do to help me out and when they know I am tired or sick they practically fight each other with swords to see who gets to take care of me. They still get disappointed when their father is not going to be home to eat supper with us at night. They like to spend time with us and with the family. Yes, they truly are good kids. When I keep their good qualities in mind it helps me to deal with whatever our newest problem might be.
Of course this leads me to my next point… all kids, no matter how amazing, are going to make mistakes and bad decisions sometimes. When we keep this in mind it makes it a little easier to deal with the times that they choose the wrong path. We still might be heartbroken at what our child has decided to do but at the same time we understand that our kids don’t have all the answers. Shoot, we don’t have all the answers and we still make mistakes, it’s only natural for our children to do so as well. We can hope we have given them the right tools to make wise choices, but sometimes they won’t. We need to prepare ourselves to face that heartache and pain of watching our children suffer the consequences of those decisions. As a parent I think it’s one of the hardest jobs we have to endure. However, if we prepare ourselves that maybe, just maybe, our really good kids might make a really bad decision, we can head off a tiny bit of that heartache before it ever reaches us. In the end that helps with the healing process and how we will handle our kids and the consequences that follow.
A big way to help our kids through this time in their lives is to remember what it was like to be a teen. I think that many parents forget how hard it is to live through this age. Oh the angst! Oh the drama! Oh the crazy fashions! When we remember how much we just wanted to be liked, to be included, to feel like we were someone special, and how every single feeling we felt was magnified by a thousand, we can understand our teens better. Remember the stress you felt at school, at home, at work… every day seemingly weighing on top of you with some new problem. Peer pressure ran rampant whether it was to get the best grades, drink or do drugs, have sex, go to the best parties, wear the best clothes, or any other number of things. Today, our kids have it even harder than we do in that regard. With technology at their fingertips they have a whole new set of temptations to deal with in ways we could have never imagined. Remembering how we felt with these pressures and then keeping in mind that our kids are dealing with these things we can perhaps begin to understand why they might make the wrong choices.
When you think of your own teenage years, think about what you wanted your parents to do for you to help you through these tough times. Sit down and talk to your child and ask them what they need in terms of help. Listen to them. Don’t discount their feelings. Sure some things may seem silly to you knowing what you do now, but think about when you were a teen and the problems that seemed so overwhelming to you then. Were they silly to you then? No? Your teen’s problems aren’t ridiculous in his eyes either. Validate his feelings because, after all, they are his feelings. Equate it to something you might have gone through and tell him how you got through it. Tell him what worked for you and what didn’t. Let him know that even though you are older than dirt now and your memory is only hanging on by a thread that you remember all those feelings and how much you hated it. You don’t have to share your entire high school years and all the mistakes you made but connecting with your child to say “I’ve been there and I understand” goes a long way to help them through the toughest of times.
Lastly, pray for your child. I know this sounds like a given but sometimes we get so angry and so overwhelmed with what our kids are doing or saying that it’s the last thing that goes through our minds. We need to put it first. We need to remember that with God all things are possible, even helping the most troubled child through the worst of times. It may seem that our prayers are falling on deaf ears but they aren’t. God hears us each and every time we cry out to Him. In addition to praying for your child, pray that God helps you to be a better parent. Sometimes when we focus on doing things differently on our end we find that our teens will respond in kind. Our children don’t have all the answers and neither do we. Remember that parenting is hard. Just like our kids, we aren’t perfect. We will make mistakes along the way. We have to recognize our mistakes, apologize for them, and take a different path the next time.
Loving our teens unconditionally is sometimes hard, especially when there are moments that we think their heads might spin around backwards and we feel like running to our parish priest to beg for an exorcism. But our teens deserve our unconditional love. They are our still our babies, even if they tower over us and occasionally think they rule the roost. They are still the precious gifts that God blessed us with so many years ago. Whether or not they want to admit it they still need us and want us in their lives. There will be times we want to run and hide out of frustration or maybe even pure terror, but we can’t guide them if we aren’t there. Resist the urge to douse them in holy water when their eyes roll back in their heads. Be present and active in their lives. Be the parent that God is to us… be loving, understanding, forgiving, and yet firm. Trust that the seeds you are planting now will bloom into the most beautiful garden you have even seen when they are grown.