Stop telling me our relationship with our teens should suck

In India with our 15 year old

“Mommy, I feel weird and embarrassed sometimes about our relationship.”  My heart sank at my 15 year old’s words.  I loved our relationship and thought she did too.  In fact, parenting teens had, to this point, proved to be my favorite stage.

I told myself not to take it personally,

“Oh, ok.  Want to tell me more about that?”  Don’t cry, I told myself and don’t come across as desperate or you’ll scare her.  But I might have felt desperate.

“Yeah, it’s just that most of my friends talk about their parents in a bad way.”  She went on to explain that her friends and other teenagers she knows always seem to be fighting with their parents and it’s like the kids think the parents are stupid and controlling and the parents think the kids are stupid and irresponsible.  All the time.  She ended with “It’s just not cool to like your parents.”

“Hmmmm, interesting.  Sometimes I feel like it’s also not cool to like your teenage kids.”  Then I showed her a meme that had been going around Facebook and the phrases about how if you thought parenting toddlers was hard, wait until you have teenagers.  I dropped a bomb with showing her a friend’s Facebook status about how they knew they were on the right track with their teens because their kids didn’t like them.  She seemed to sink a little when I told her I’ve had people tell me to just wait it will get worse when I say I enjoy parenting teens so far.

We hugged in mutual sadness.  My heart buoyed as she whispered she didn’t care about being cool.  At least not when it comes to this, maybe in some other areas though.

Lavinia sunset
Our 13yo, she positively glows.

The gratitude that I feel that she and our 13 year old cherish our relationship and are willing to be uncool to preserve it is overwhelming.  Our teens are amazing people, I admire them and am blown away by how kind, compassionate, vulnerable, and insightful they are.  Thankfully, our teens aren’t the only ones that have decided it’s ok to not be cool and go ahead and like their parents, other families are finding that building a relationship with their teens based on love and respect actually works.  We’re encouraged by those families to reject the stereotypical attitude about parenting teens.

Because when it comes to the prevailing advice and mentality about parenting teens I’m just tired of it. The memes, the advice, the Facebook brags about how their kid hates them so they know they must be doing something right, the articles pointing out how it isn’t important if your kids like you just teach them what they need to know about real life and don’t expect them to want to be with you, give up hope of them talking and opening up to you, and don’t dare think they will respect you unless you make them by showing them who’s boss. I’m sick of it.

“If your teen hates you, you’re doing it right.”

Congrats I guess, if this is what you aspire to in parenting but I call bull.

“It’s not your job to be their friend, it’s your job to be their parent.”

This is mutually exclusive because…?

“They may hate you now but they’ll be thanking you later.”

And you wonder why they have a lack of respect?

“It’s better they fight you now than go to jail later.”

Obviously it has to be one or the other, fight now or go to jail later.  I don’t think so.

“Oh, you think it’s hard now, just wait until you have teenagers.”

Well if they are anything like you…

Please, STOP telling me our relationship with our teens should suck.

And while I’m at it, shaming your kids is NOT great parenting.  It’s not even human decency.  How awesome, asshole parenting going viral on the internet and those are the people getting the parenting praise.  Shooting your kid’s computer, forcing them to hold a humiliating sign in public, or smearing their reputation on social media is not admirable, against an adult it would be considered assault and slander.  Grow up, be the parent, model something decent.

Jeremy and me with our two teens at a gala event.
Jeremy and me with our two teens at a gala event.

Often I hear how too many parents are trying to be their child’s friend, not their parent.  Why can’t it be both?

You know what? My parents weren’t my friends when I was a teen and they aren’t my friends today. I don’t need a parent in much of a parenting way today. Not that I couldn’t use wise counsel or someone that understands me and supports me that I feel safe with, because I do need that. Thankfully I have that too. In some incredible friends.

I hesitate to write this, there is a chance my parents will read it and it will hurt them. That’s not what I want. I love my parents, I care deeply for them and I don’t want to cause them pain. The truth is though, I don’t know what kind of relationship I have with them today. When I left my teens and my parent’s home, I knew they weren’t my friends. After I, with Jeremy’s help, clearly drew the line that they were done parenting me (AKA “telling me what to do” AKA “offering guidance”, AKA controlling me) neither my parents nor I understood what kind of relationship we then had. They were still my parents but they weren’t responsible for parenting me any more and if they tried I resisted. They also weren’t my friends, they never had been and trying to act like we were felt awkward, like something that fit both too small and too large all at once. Something that belonged to someone else, not us.  When they wanted to share their opinions on our family planning decisions, I immediately bristled. I could talk about sex and birth control with my doctor and my best girl friends, shoot, even in mixed company with other couples, but my parents?  No way.  There was nothing there that made me want to even hear what they had to say on the subject.  I still felt like they were disapproving of my clothing choices.

Over time it has gotten easier, this new normal, but it still isn’t what they want or what I want. We just haven’t figured out anything else and there was no parent to friend switch we could flip to make it all hunky-dory so we’ve just stumbled along for half of my life trying to understand this territory of grown up child and parents relationship.  I still enjoy spending some time with them but it’s been two years since I’ve seen my mom, longer for my dad and, though it pains me to say it, we’re doing fine with this arrangement.

I’m not going to lie, I want to be friends with my children. Now and in the future. Some families may navigate the transition from parenting to parentfriends just fine but I can’t help but wonder if the relationship we have with our children when they are young directly impacts the relationship we have with them when they are adults. What I longed for the most initially when I left my parents’ home was for them to respect me and with that to trust me. The problem? I had not felt those things with them before I left and saw no evidence of them after.

These teens rock.
These teens rock.

When I interact with my daughters I don’t want the idea that I respect them, trust them, and value their friendship to be a foreign or surprising concept.  Jeremy and I are far from perfect people, we make plenty of mistakes and have to admit to realizing we can do better.  We have bad days and immature moments.  We yell, attempt to manipulate, and sometimes struggle to be honest about our screw ups.  We have plenty of good days too full of surprisingly mature moments and honest openness.  Our communications are sometimes exactly what we would hope they would be, reflecting our true hearts.  There are moments when we attempt to control others and resist the guidance of those that love us and there are moments when we interact and manage our own behavior exactly how we would like.  Learning and growing in relating to others and understanding ourselves continues to be a journey for us.

In other words, we’re really not that different from our children.

Is it possible that in stigmatizing teens as being difficult we are creating our own struggle?  Could we as adults, be internalizing the inner conflict of the teens around us and making it about us when it is actually just their own struggle?  Instead of taking it personally, could we simply empathize with respect and be a safe place for them to test the adult skills they need to develop?  Is it possible that we’re talking at them when we should be listening to them?

demanding respect give it

My years as a teen are still incredibly painfully fresh for me.  I can still sing the song I made up about how I was to dress after a long and agonizing late night conversation with my parents about the length of a skirt I had worn and with the melody and lame rhymes, the frustration and anger still stings as I felt that my own opinion didn’t have any bearing as to what I was permitted to put on my own body.  Though my parents had emphasized multiple times in that conversation that this was about me respecting myself, I felt powerless in that moment.  How could I respect myself when they couldn’t respect me?  They wouldn’t even listen to me.

With our own teens we don’t know exactly what we are doing but we’re listening to the voices of others that believe parenting teens can be different.  Like this one and some friends that have adult children now and they didn’t just survive their children’s teen years, they thrived as a family.  What we tell ourselves when it is tough in the moment is that we don’t want to give our children something to fight against, instead we want to come along side them and fight with them against whatever they are battling, be it internal or external.  It doesn’t mean there are no boundaries or that they escape all consequences for bad choices.  It means not having to control them, respecting them, trusting them, encouraging their own critical thinking process and problem solving, and helping them navigate their terrain with growing confidence in themselves. Providing tools and skills, training to deal with life’s challenges, our role is support.  Many parents love their children but do we forget that respect is key in showing love?

Psychology Today describes respect thus:

Respect means we have high regard or admiration for another’s views and feelings. We value their abilities and inner qualities.

Jeremy and I want something different from what we grew up with, something different from the popular ideas on parenting teens.   For starters, we want genuine respect.

When we talk about teens and our relationship with them with a touch (or more like a giant heaping) of disdain, dismiss their feelings and perspectives as simply rebellion or naiveté, and demand respect without giving respect, why are we surprised these incredible individuals don’t respect us and don’t want to be vulnerable with us.  Children learn best from modeling, that doesn’t change just because their bodies start to change and hormones increase.  Want respect from your teen?  Start by giving it.

I was not prepared for how much I would enjoy having teens. It makes becoming older so much more fun. The teens in our home are the kind of people I’m blessed to call friend, honored to call daughters. Like their younger sisters, they inspire me every day and our teens challenge me to be a better person and know myself. I love the people my children are.

So top telling me our relationship with our teens should suck.  Because it doesn’t, it rocks.

Want more on interacting with teens in a healthy way?  This excellent article from Psychology Today is one of my favorites, bookmarked so I can frequently refer to the practical tips.

~Jessica

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