When I had kids, I settled into the role of being their nurturer and teacher. But as a parent of three teens, I never could have anticipated how many times our roles would be reversed, and they would teach me about life along this parenting journey.
5 Lessons I’ve Learned from my Teenagers:
1. I should stop worrying.
I get stressed easily. And my teens are constantly reminding me of what I tell them when they are feeling anxious: the best thing to do is to step away from a situation and get some clarity.
I’ve helped my kids with this their entire lives. What I didn’t see coming was all the days they would make me think about my own words. I tell them that there isn’t anything we can’t figure out together. I try to teach them to deal with their anxiety and stress, but I need to do it for myself, too.
2. A mess isn’t the end of the world.
Their bedrooms cause me to break out in hives. They seem chaotic and unsafe and I feel like I’m viewing a crime scene. But they love their rooms just as they are.
When I was nagging my oldest to please do something with his room because I couldn’t take it anymore, he asked, “How does it affect you? You don’t have to go in there.” He was right.
Closing the door and moving on is the right thing to do here. I can fight my teens until the bitter end but, really, their rooms are the one space in the house where they should feel free to let things go. A mess really isn’t that big of a deal. All I have to do to remember that is look at how happy they are sitting in the filth.
3. Not everything has to be planned out.
Trying to keep schedules straight becomes a big focus when we have teens. There are times when I’m afraid to veer away from the schedule because I’m worried the whole week will get messed up if I don’t stay on track.
But we talk about the times our schedules went haywire and my kids remind me that those unplanned moments are sometimes the best. Like the day we got lost on the way home and found our new favorite diner. Or when I thought we all had a dentist appointment and pulled them out of school early only to realize the appointment wasn’t for another two weeks. Magic happens when we don’t try to control every moment.
4. I don’t need to keep my emotions bottled up.
My kids need to see me being real. They need to know I have feelings and emotions. That I cry and get frustrated and have to work my way through some hard stuff.
There was a time when I tried to hide my negative emotions from my children. Then my daughter asked why she only heard me crying when I was in the shower. I felt like I needed to protect them, but kids are smart and they know when you are struggling. They knew I was pretending everything was fine when it wasn’t. And they wanted to know why, since it’s the opposite of what I teach them.
By being honest with my teens about how I’m feeling, they come to me with their feelings rather than trying to manage their emotions on their own.
5. Love isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Walking through Target one day, my daughter told me she didn’t want a science kit like I was buying for her brother. And she didn’t want something of equal value. Instead, she wanted to have a mother/daughter date to her favorite Chinese restaurant. Most of the time, she would rather spend quality time with me than get a material gift.
My two older kids got cell phones before their younger brother. They were ready for the responsibility, but he wasn’t. I thought the decision would cause a huge blowup but it didn’t. He told me he knew he’d get a phone when he was better about not losing things and had worked to earn it.
My three kids are all very different. They all have different love languages. But it took a few years of them explaining what they needed for me to realize it was okay to treat them differently. It was a game-changer when I paid attention to what they were showing me and adjusted my parenting to fit their individual needs.
Knowing my teens have just as much, if not more, to offer me about life makes all the struggles and mistakes worth it. Parenting can feel really lonely sometimes, but my teens are constantly reminding me that we are in this together.