Ten years ago, I was stressed and venting about my little kids during a coffee morning with a group of international moms. I’m not sure if it was schoolyard drama or academic struggles that had me in a tizzy. Didn’t matter. An older mum and dear friend stopped me right there to warn me about how much harder the teen years would be, how I should enjoy the minor problems of my little kids while they lasted.
I bristled inside. Even when she talked candidly about her son’s drug use, alcohol abuse, casual sex, mental health crises and legal troubles, it simply didn’t sink in. She tried to warn me.
She cautioned about the poor decisions and risky behaviors I could expect when my babies got old enough to look and behave like adults…despite being kids with a not-yet-developed prefrontal cortex. My wise friend had the double-whammy of a partner who was deployed leaving her to deal with three teenagers, one of whom was in serious trouble.
Even though I nodded sympathetically, I couldn’t relate.
I loved hearing my friend’s story but I wasn’t really listening
Don’t get me wrong, I loved hearing about how she muddled through the trenches, and how her teens eventually became productive, stable adults. But my mind still echoed, “That will never be my boys.”
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Even to think those words is like inviting Karma over for tea and biscuits. It took me years to appreciate her words.
But now, with two teens of my own and reeling in the aftermath of a pandemic, my friend’s warning lingers in my head. And instead of judgment, I feel reassurance and gratitude.
You’re not alone.
You’ll get through this.
Your kids will be OK.
When your kids mess up it’s devastating to a parent
When your teen messes up, it’s devastating as a parent. And it’s natural to wonder, “What did I do wrong? Why my kid?” All over social media, you see other people’s children and their glowing achievements. Sports championships. Honor rolls. Acceptance letters. Scholarships.
Guess what you don’t see? Suicide attempts. DUIs. Rehab stints. Car crashes. Failed classes. School suspensions. Heartbreak. Holes punched in the wall. Rejection letters.
This morning on a private Facebook group for parents of teens, one mom who was looking for encouragement, asked other parents to tell stories about how their children were defiant as teens, but grew up to be well-adjusted adults.
The kicker? She felt like she needed to post it anonymously. In a private online forum of parents from around the world, all of us looking for advice on parenting teenagers, this mom couldn’t even risk that someone she knew in real life might learn she’s struggling.
And I completely understand.
It’s hard to air your issues when your kids are older
If your son just failed geometry or you found a vape cartridge in your daughter’s jacket, you keep it to yourself. Because you don’t want other moms looking down their noses at you, thinking their kid would never do such a thing.
I was one of those other moms and boy do I regret it now. Because when my kids did mess up (and face it, they all do at some point) I never felt more alone. My husband and I were left to the comfort of Google, podcasts and audiobooks, because who wants to talk openly about their child’s darkest hours? We weren’t about to risk alienating or embarrassing our child, much less having our friends or family think poorly of our kid or our parenting.
But the truth is we aren’t alone. Especially right now.
In fact, last year, so many of our kids were going through crises that children’s mental health was declared a national emergency by the American Academy of Pediatrics. A national emergency!
We are all need support right now
During our own tough times, I felt forever grateful to my friend who so many years ago said, “Come sit next to me.” Who pre-empted and predicted the BS my little kids would eventually throw my way when they morphed into man-sized teenagers. And then, most importantly, she gave me hope.
And if the online forums are any indication, parents of teens are all craving some hope and solidarity right now.
So I encourage you, share the struggles as well the triumphs. Let the parents in your life know they aren’t alone. Even if your friends are doing OK right now (or they say they’re doing OK right now), maybe in a month or a year or in ten years, they’ll reflect on your words. And they will be reassured knowing their teenagers’ bad decisions don’t make them bad parents. It will give them hope knowing that just about everyone struggles during these difficult teenage years (now amplified by the aftershocks of a pandemic) but they, too, will eventually come out on the other side.
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