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The Marathon of Parenting: How to Raise a Teenager

Sitting in the waiting room, I overheard one side of a phone conversation. From what I could ascertain, the woman was empathizing with her friend who was struggling at home with a newborn. I heard platitudes like, “I remember how hard it was to wake up every two hours throughout the night.” Or another one was, “All the crying can really get to you after a while.” I think she was trying to be helpful.

Then she said a statement which I’ve heard many times, but I still cringed, when she said, “Well, you know what they say, ‘Little kids little problems; Big kids big problems.’ I would much rather deal with a crying baby than my brooding teenage daughter.”

The first time someone said it to me, my twins were three months old. My sleep deprived demeanor and my crying twin babies must have elicited the statement from a stranger. I remember thinking, “So being a mom is only going to get harder?” It didn’t make me feel better that my problem of listening to incessant crying and lack of sleep were only “little” problems and left me wondering how I would be able to be a mom to teens with their “bigger” problems?

Would I be ready to tackle learning how to raise a teenager?

This expression fails to take into consideration a mom’s experience. When I first became a mom, I felt like someone turned to me and said, “Okay it’s time to run a marathon which is 26.2 miles. Hurry up, you need to start running. Go!”

But I hadn’t trained for a marathon. When it came to parenting, I had only run a few miles—babysitting as a teen and reading parenting books. I also was a counselor for teens diagnosed with mental illness living in a residential facility, so I’ve seen the problems kids face.

But I wasn’t prepared for how much I second-guessed myself and how uncertain I always felt. On a daily basis, I asked myself, “Why are they crying? What am I doing wrong? Why is this so hard?”

There was no time to learn how to run this marathon. I just had to start and hope for the best, looking for signs to tell me where to go.

My twins are now 13 years old which means the ominous “big problems” are the ones we may encounter. But I feel more confident now to face those challenges. While I don’t doubt there will be hills or bends in the road, I feel more prepared to raise a teenager because I’ve actually been a mom and gained some valuable tools along the way.

Why I’m Ready to Raise a Teenager:

1. I have more support.

When my kids were babies, we moved into a new neighborhood where I didn’t know many people. Most of my friends didn’t have kids, so I had few resources to field all of my millions of parenting questions and concerns.

But now I feel like there are crowds of people during the course shouting, “you can do it, keep going, you got this!” every step of the way. I’ve connected with many moms, some who even have children older than mine, so those moms are like trainers letting me know ways to prepare or answer questions when I’m having a hard time. It’s also nice to know that I’m not alone because other moms are there to support me.

2. I “get” my kids.

When your children are babies, you don’t know them, and they can’t tell you how they feel (at least not using complete sentences.) Now I understand their traits, like how my daughter is easily bored or my son, is sensitive to loud noises, which helps me to know why they might be struggling and how to fix the situation. And sometimes, if I’m lucky, they are even able to verbalize why they are upset.

3. My teens can be helpful and self-sufficient.

Babies and toddlers require a lot of attention. It is physically exhausting and mentally draining. Of course, my teens can also demand my attention and try my patience, but for the most part, they are self-sufficient. They also can be helpful by babysitting their younger sibling or doing chores around the house.

4. Teens can be fun.

Babies take a lot of care, and while I loved this phase, I also know how much fun teens can be too—it’s not all doom and gloom. Teens can be witty, helpful, and resilient. And sometimes they can figure out ways to work out those “big problems” with assistance. Being a mom dealing with both your child’s problems — whether big or small — is hard. Moms will always worry about their kids. But having a more confident disposition because you’ve been training for it all along makes it a little bit easier.

You can either view the teenage years as something you dread or a challenge you want to accomplish because you’re ready to tackle it.

My running shoes are tied. I’ve trained for raising a teenager. And I’m at the starting line saying to myself, “Bring it!”

On your mark. Get set. Go.

Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and is the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Parents Magazine, AARP, Healthline, Your Teen Magazine and many other publications. She is a professional member of ASJA. You can find her at Twitter @CherylMaguire05

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