Jo Rowe believes the teenage years needn’t be as bad as many predict
I remember the ragged, long days of small children; the endless cycle of mealtimes and bedtimes, the nappies, the mess, the stickiness. It was exhausting and rewarding in the same breath and it really does go by in the blink of an eye (although I used to hate people saying that to me at the time – couldn’t they see I was drowning in demands). Know that you are doing so well!
One of the things that I heard so frequently, when my children were small, was “They are sweet now, just wait until they are teenagers!” Which used to strike a fear in me that I didn’t really know what to do with. It made me look at my beautiful toddlers differently, it never sat comfortably. I didn’t want my cuddly, lively toddler to turn into a moody, monosyllabic teenager with greasy hair and a bad attitude, but that was what was assumed.
Well, I am several years into parenting teenagers, and I want to give you hope. I LOVE having teenagers. It so much fun! Is it challenging and tiring? Well, yes, it is! But there is so much joy.
What I love
I love watching their sense of humour develop, I love seeing them grow in skill and ability (even in things that I am not good at like maths and physics). I love having deep conversations about life and faith and it is very satisfying seeing them eat all the things they swore that were disgusting and poisonous when they were three.
It’s tough for some
I know that not everyone has great experiences with having teenagers. It can be a really painful time. I know that for some families divorce or abuse or pain has damaged relationships and made teen years tricky. I know that not everyone has my story but I still want to release hope for families of tweens who are staring down the teen years and wondering what will happen to their sweet child.
I think teenagers get a bad rep. Sometimes we get what we expect and then we don’t challenge the behaviour because we expect it. Teenagers are moody, right? Well, yes, they can be. Hormones are a cruel lens that can magnify their emotions so that they seem big and overwhelming. With two teen girls in the house, we definitely have some mood swings. However, we have had a lot of conversations about managing those mood swings well by identifying the role hormones are having and making sure that they are talking, taking care of themselves and protecting relationships. Of course, we have days that are melodramatic and angry, but to say that teenagers are moody, sets our expectation level so low that they are sure to meet it.
Like any of us, teens have to learn that emotions don’t have to control their behaviour, and it can get messy while they learn, but to label them as moody is unfair and limiting. Teenagers are also full of fun and excitement. It is fantastic to watch their enthusiasm and joy over the smallest of things. Groups of teenagers together bring so much energy, I love having them in my kitchen and around my table.
But teenagers are rebellious and argumentative, aren’t they? Again, yes, they can be. The teen years are a key period where they start to form their own opinions and beliefs. They are forming a deeper sense of self apart from their parents. This can feel terrifying as we feel them pulling away and forming their own opinion, often one that differs from ours. As parents, we can feel a sense of panic and hold on tighter or even feel hopeless and let go completely. Especially as they start to question the faith that they may have been brought up with. But this questioning and independence is normal and important; it is possible to ride it out with them with relationship intact, without the rebellion and disconnection.
All this does require a look at boundaries.Which ones we need loosen now they are older, which ones stay firm no matter what because we are the parents?. It also requires so much talking. In our family we place a high value on remaining connected, so our kids are allowed to disagree with us, as long as they do it well. If they make a mess in their disagreement, we expect them to clear it up with us. It’s key to model this when we talk to them, if we are disrespectful to our teenagers, we will get disrespect back!
But teenagers are subject to peer pressure. Part of their development means that they are naturally affected more by their peers as time goes on. It is part of working out where they fit and where they belong. There is a natural worry that they will fall into the wrong crowd or be encouraged to compromise their faith. And the truth is, it is a real danger. That is where praying for our kids is important. I do pray for their friendships. I do pray for their faith, in fact, my prayer life has dramatically increased since having teenagers!
It’s good to talk
It maybe goes without saying that talking is a crucial part of wise parenting. We talk about the tough decisions that they’ll face, like parties, pornography, alcohol, and sex. We talk through scenarios and I ask what they believe and what their plan is. We also open up our house because I want our house to be the place our kids hang out. I want our table to feel a safe non-judgemental place for teenagers to be. We are still parents; we are still needed to be the firm foundation that they can come back to while everything around them shifts and shakes. Part of that firm foundation is making sure that they are being fed a healthy diet. I have found that it is easy to think that it’s just teenage behaviour; to be on the screens, in their rooms, uncommunicative. But all of us need a healthy diet of connection and deep conversation, not just teenagers! Teenagers are developing their own ideas and opinions and we get to be a part of that. We get to challenge their thinking and ask questions to help understand them. The more we can understand their world and the way they see it (however baffing!), the more they feel seen and known, and in my experience, the more they seek out your advice on the things they are struggling with.
Do not fear!
So, please don’t fear the teenage years because they are beautiful. A beautiful season of watching them become independent, strong, resilient, and funny.There will be arguments and sticky moments. There will be hormones and slammed doors. There may well be tears and tantrums. You will need to stock up your fridge and buy ridiculous amounts of shampoo and you will feel old and out of touch, as you no longer understand the slang or the cultural references (don’t even try…) but having teenagers can be the most rewarding part of parenting. I laugh every day at their witticism. I feel their struggle and their battle but I am so very glad that I get this time to glimpse all that they will be in adulthood. It is exciting…. and it goes so quick!
From one parent to another; hang in there mums and dads, support each other, because the days are long but the years are short.
And remember, you are doing a great job. (Even if you don’t feel it!)