When my children were babies, I thought that was one of the hardest and most joyful experiences I’ve ever had. When my children were toddlers, I thought that was one of the most nail-biting and adventurous experiences I’ve ever had. When my children were elementary-school-age, I thought that was one of the busiest and most fun experiences I’ve ever had.
Then…something happened. Nobody talks about it, nobody warns you about it, no one posts about it. You learn about it on your own because it hits you like a ton of bricks. Children suddenly become mini-adults trapped in ever-changing hormonal bodies. They attempt to navigate the world and be cool, yet they still enjoy the comforts of a home-cooked meal and folded laundry. Teenagers!!
I have lived/am living through four of them, and it’s one of the hardest and most exhausting experiences I’ve ever had. New babies and toddlers are a piece of cake in comparison.
During this time of the Wordle Craze, let’s use an acrostic to examine what it’s like to be a parent of a teenager.
There are many people in your children’s lives who are going to be teaching them things — good and bad. Teachers, parents, coaches, friends, social media, the internet — their sphere of influence has quadrupled now. Yet, somewhere in all of the noise of information, it’s more important than ever to have teachable moments with your teens.
Teens are eager to be accepted by their peers, eager to fit in. Fitting in often means getting their first phone, their first Instagram account, their first middle school dance, their first kiss, their first boyfriend or girlfriend, their first time confiding in their friends instead of you. Just be present for when those moments happen.
Did I mention hormones? Did I mention pressure? Between the hormones racing through their bodies, the intense academic pressure, the desire to fit in, and keeping up with their Snapchats, teenagers have a lot on their plate — much more than we did at their age. Plus, let’s be honest, we’re not their favorite people right now. Take all of that and mix it in a bowl and voilà, you have an edgy teen.
Do you wake up to dishes and food all over your kitchen that was not there when you went to sleep? Do you hear bumps in the night? These are all definite signs you have a teenager living in your house. They stay up all hours of the night doing homework, eating food, cooking, or talking to their other nocturnal friends.
Just about everything during the teen years is awkward. It always has been, and decade after decade that will continue. Now they have to deal with acne, body odor, hair growing all over the place, and voices changing. The big difference is now it’s captured in hundreds of pictures a day.
Sometimes, they are grown up and independent. Other times, they still need to cuddle (and so do we!). It’s this strange in-between time of push and pull — pushing towards adulthood, yet pulling back into childhood.
For good reason, teens are exhausted. School is intense. Between that and extracurricular and social activities, there’s a barely a moment to breathe, let alone sleep.
Do you remember the days when you escaped to the bathroom just to have a moment of solitude from your children? You don’t have to worry about that anymore. Instead, you may get a fleeting moment of your teen at dinner or passing in the hallway. Teens need and want to have time alone — in their room, in the basement, in their car — basically anywhere their parents are not.
Some days I think my teens hate me, and then the next day they help me decorate for my mom’s birthday party. As hard as it is, I follow their lead and listen and try to not lose my mind through the whiplash of changing moods. In the end, every moment is a gift. This beautiful dance of push and pull is being the parent of a teenager.
Monica Brancheau is a mom of four who has had multiple careers. She’s a Michigan native and graduate of the University of Michigan who then never left Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience working with children’s issues, from education to non-profit work in teaching in urban settings and non-profit management, marketing, and fundraising. All of this work has led her to becoming the Director of Strategic Partnerships of the ChadTough Foundation. When not working, you can find her gardening, reading, writing, listening to music, and spending time with her treasured family.