When our kids are young, we spend an inordinate amount of time commiserating with other parents about issues we’re having: potty training, sleep — or a lack thereof — concerns about eating habits, you name it. We cover it all and offer one another suggestions and tricks for getting through those rough patches.
As children get into the middle years of elementary school, life seems to ease up. Gone are all those problems that seemed so big. We’re in the halcyon days of parenting at that point, so we don’t need to lean on one another nearly as much. We can collectively let out a sigh and enjoy the fruits of our earlier labor.
Things go smoothly until the children hit the teen years, at which point parenting takes another turn for the more difficult. But as one of my friends pointed out the other day, something’s missing at this stage. The open, helpful dialogue we shared when our kids were young is gone.
But why? Is it that we’ve fallen out of the habit during those easier years of parenting? Is it because we don’t have the natural mutual meeting spots alongside the playground, at parent and tot classes, or at preschool pickup? Or is it deeper, something along the lines of shame? Because let’s face it, the teen years fully give meaning to the adage “big kids, big problems.”
It can be a lonely place, this territory of teen parenting. You worry that it’s just your kid who shuts you out. You think your kid is the only one struggling with pre-calculus. You assume that yours is the sole refrigerator missing a bottle of beer. But if you checked around, you’d learn that you’re not alone.
Our community had a recent incident in which a group of boys — from my son’s peer group — were caught drinking excessively. Bad decisions and outcomes were the result. It was a wake-up call for several parents. But most important, it resulted in a dialogue among a group of mothers, who came together to talk about what transpired and how to prevent it from happening in the future. They shared their mutual pain, owned their kids’ mistakes and made headway in how to communicate better in the future.
This is critical, because teens are masters at smoke and mirrors. They take advantage of their growing freedom. Using their phones, they compare notes on whose parents are home on a given weekend, who has the fake ID and how to get from point A to point B.
We need to recognize that, as hard as it may be, our own children might be part of it. I’m going to kick off that ownership.
My son is rebelling.
In a fit of emotion last weekend, he packed a bag, left our home and went to a friend’s house to spend the night. It was scary, hurtful and alarming. I also suspect that he has tried alcohol by now, even though I don’t have proof.
Once we’ve admitted to ourselves that these behaviors might be going on, it’s time to share our concerns with the parents we trust and care about, and whose children run in the same circles.
In my case, once the smoke had cleared and my son was back home, I checked in with several friends who are also raising teenage sons. I discovered that I was far from alone in my trials, and I heard relief in their voices as we compared notes. We shared our knowledge of recent circumstances, as well as advice.
This was immensely comforting and useful. Just as when we swapped insights on getting our kids to eat carrots back when they were 3, exchanging notes on what has worked or not worked with our teens was valuable. Not to mention, more far-reaching in scope. This is not the time for silence or shame.
Let’s keep the conversations going as our kids become teens. Admitting that you are struggling isn’t a condemnation of your parenting. As soon as you open up, other moms will, too. That’s not only soothing to your soul, but it’s also potentially helpful to someone else.
Amanda Loudin is a freelance writer based in Maryland. She tweets @misszippy1
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