The Best Advice I Ever Got About Parenting a Teenager
Do you remember being mad at your parents when you were a teenager? Do you remember saying to yourself, “if I ever have kids I will never be as mean/useless/irrational as my stupid mom/dad is”? I sure do. And I was serious about it; I started reading parenting books when I was a 15 year-old babysitter, a full ten years before my son was born.
The research continues to this day. Of the dozens of experts I have learned from, the best advice I ever got came from Patti Wipfler, founder of Hand in Hand Parenting (back then it was called the Parents Leadership Institute). Even though I’ve held onto other gems to get me through various phases (like, ‘family before housework’ and ‘if everyone is sleeping then your sleep arrangement is fine – no matter where everyone is sleeping’), the big over-arching advice I got from Patti Wipfler shortly after The Boy was born had the most impact.
That gold nugget was this: the work of parenting is very demanding and very intense during the 0-6 years and also the teenage years.
Here’s what I understood: my foot would be on the gas at the beginning, and there would be sleep deprivation and confusion and hardly any rest, and then I could let up on the pedal a little bit. But I wouldn’t be able to park the car. I wouldn’t be able to put it on autopilot. I had to keep the engine running and prepare myself for another 6 years of pedal-to-the-metal and confusion and hard work.
Give it to me straight
You may be surprised, but I found this guidance very comforting. I’m the kind of person who likes to know how long the cavity is going to take to fill and what exactly is going to happen when the speculum gets inserted. I find information empowering even though it might be scary. I would way rather have accurate details about what lies ahead, even if it might be painful, than be caught by surprise.
This gold nugget wasn’t an immediately applicable communication tip nor was it a behavior modification strategy. Rather, it was advice about a helpful mindset. It spoke to me about the importance of having a big-picture view on parenting even as I nursed my toddler. And it contradicted the apathy many adults feel about parenting teenagers that I have long detected.
Success is in the preparation
I have known my whole life that parenting teens is not a walk in the park; you don’t have to look far to find folks complaining with exasperation about their lazy/irresponsible/disrespectful teenagers. But why all the complaining? Is it so hard to admit that the work of parenting teens is just HARD?
Parents can talk about the non-stop stress of having an infant, yet in the next breath tell you what a little miracle their precious angel is. And they will tell you how they finally managed to actually go to the bathroom alone for 5 minutes and World War 3 didn’t break out in the other room, yet they say it without also accusing their kids of being a major burden.
But teenagers are another story. Teens get blamed left and right for the frustration and anger their moms and dads feel. This isn’t fair.
Parenting teens in perspective
The gold nugget of advice about pushing my parenting pedal back to the metal when The Boy was a teenager put all that burden and blame into perspective for me. If you’re a person who thinks that parenting is just going to get easier and easier the older your child gets, then you’re going to be in for a world of disappointment when the going gets tough. It makes sense that feeling bewildered might cause you to throw around some blame.
I went to university when The Boy was eight and nine years old to get my graduate degree in leadership and training. One of my smartest decisions for our family, but it also made for the most heart-breaking time of my adult life. Major competing priorities are a bitch.
However, I caution you about considering a goal of this magnitude while your children are teenagers. Your career path may even need to change if your sincere hope is to raise children who feel safe and loved. Please be honest with yourself about this.
The work of parenting a teenager is a completely different affair from the work of parenting small children. In many ways it requires an entirely separate skill set from the one you used earlier. Thankfully humans are capable of sharing knowledge, learning from each other, and gaining wisdom from our mistakes – so parenting teenagers doesn’t have to be a dark time. If you can mentally prepare yourself for the grind, and pick up some new skills, you won’t get thrown off by the pain and surprise. Instead you will be able to say, “I saw this coming, and I’m ready.”
About Kerri Wall: Kerri is a parent educator and mediator who also works as a liaison to local governments in her public sector day job. She is the single mom to an 18-year old son who was birthed at home. Kerri blogs regularly at http://kerriwall.ca where she offers relationship help to parents of teenagers.