Gabby, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: When I became a new mother, I was often surprised when my youthful mother-in-law answered my specific questions about her own three babies with a shrug and the response, “You know… I just don’t remember.” My youngest child has befriended quite a few “first-borns” and, when I am asked questions by their moms, I have to admit, my own recollections are often vague much like my mother-in-law’s. When did I first let them ride public transport alone? Did they drive at night? When was curfew? - leave me scratching my head. Embarrassed, I wonder to myself whether I was a bad mother, too stressed with our three children or simply blocked out the teenage years.
Re-entering “the pre-launch stage” with my youngest child is a mixed blessing. I enjoy things more, am more flexible, and less judgmental. I don’t worry about the minutiae or, at least everything, and am I definitely more confident.
But there are times when I do think, “Oh no, not this … I just can’t do the teenage years again.” Either I can’t muster the enthusiasm (like those energetic sideline moms) or I’m pretty sure I didn’t get it right the first time, or worse yet, now that I better understand the hazards of this specific stage (driving and texting, academic pressure, unhealthy relationships, under age drinking etc.) I realize I should really worry more.
While I can’t recall all the specifics around parenting my older two during those high school years, I have learned quite a bit from the experiences. So this time around my plan involves these top eight approaches…..
1. Aim for a balance between respect and openness
My children shared a fair amount with me. I think they felt safe enough to confide in us about big concerns and voice their opinions while having their own privacy. However, they also worried (and were even a bit scared) about disappointing us if they weren’t respectful, truthful or broke safety rules. I conveyed that they should have some of their own privacy but that it was an earned privilege.
2. Practice having a thoughtful rationale ahead of time
Most of us grew up with parents who said “because I said so.” I am able to articulate my own values which my child needs to hear and it is much easier to be consistent in the heat of argument when you have done your homework.
3. Decide to trust until there is a reason to distrust
I remind myself that this stage is about “letting go” and my goal is to teach my child to become self-sufficient and make good choices. When trust is broken, remind them that it will require baby steps to regain that trust.
4. Value process, progress and character building instead of focusing on the end result
My older kids have learned that hard work, a good attitude, honesty, generosity, responsibility, flexibility, and adjusting to setbacks are part and parcel of happiness and success. Merely focusing on the finish line may lead to disappointment, may not teach your children about integrity, or it might bypass them discovering who they are meant to become as adults.
5. Use humor whenever possible
When I could get my kids to laugh about my own flaws and struggles, it was easier to talk about their own. At the stressful point of college visits my kids and I made a pact to laugh about the silliest comment made on each campus visit. Humor is also a way to send subtle messages.
6. Find any activity to keep communicating
I am a full-fledged failure at shopping. Instead of getting frustrated at indecision or the superficiality of it, I have shifted my attitude and see it as a tutorial about fashion and a lesson in spending choices. I bide my time until we can chat over a coffee or meal afterwards. With my son, I stuck to exercise and talking sports, the second of which I have no clue about.
7. Help my child envision their future beyond high school and college
Encourage them to talk with other people beyond their parents so they can learn about careers, lifestyles, adventures, disappointments, relationships, financial decisions etc.
8. Start the conversation and model life skills that even the best education can’t do
Now is the time to help them cultivate different skills and perspectives (beyond academia) as they approach the “real world.” I want to dispel the notion that if you follow a certain formula (often laid out in high school and by other adults) that they will find their purpose in the world and will be happy. With my older kids, I encouraged them to dream big but we brainstormed strategies for dealing with stress and disappointments. They have been exposed to practices and encouraged to develop an inner life, whatever that may look like.
As your child enters those last couple years before leaving for college and beyond, what are your top parenting strategies for the final teenage years at home?
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