Life On the Other Side

Adjusting to the “Role of the Day” While Parenting Teens


When you have teenagers, things change quickly. It seems like each time you blink, they have grown a little; they are becoming small adults before your eyes. With every other blink, it is possible for the mood to shift. (Perhaps the answer is to not blink.)

I have learned over the years that living with teenagers means you can expect anything and should probably expect nothing.  I have a tremendous amount of empathy for them; I remember those days and would not go back to that time in my life for anything. What I didn’t, of course, realize is the toll it can take on parents. There are things one just doesn’t think about. Parenting teens is not as easy as I thought it would be when they were toddlers.

You are no longer needed or wanted

When they were young, I had moments I wanted to change my name to anything but Mommy. I sometimes wished there was someone, anyone else that they could go to for help. I know I am not alone in being the only mother who knows where to find whatever someone is looking for or how to cut a waffle or pour juice in precisely the correct way.

It seems that these small beings we share a home with request help well beyond the point they are capable of doing these things for themselves. Then the moment comes (it sneaks up on you so you don’t notice) that they are doing these things on their own and resent it when you attempt to help. When you have multiple children, it stings a little, but you can simply then focus attention on the next one. When it is the last one, it is tough to not feel obsolete, like you no longer have a purpose in their lives. (Note that this is often a temporary state. You will likely be both wanted and needed again.)

You lose some friends

When kids move into the teenage years, all parents are less involved in activities. You no longer see the parents you chatted with on playgrounds and sidelines regularly, and some friendships fall off. Or perhaps your child’s relationship with a friend ends and it is just awkward for you to continue to have a relationship with his or her parents.

Once teens start driving, you are called on less to play chauffeur, and even when you are, picking up your child involves sitting in the car, sending a text to notify them of your arrival, and then waiting. Before, your child didn’t have a phone, so you would knock on the door, go inside and talk to the parents, sometimes making your child wait for you to be ready to go while you chatted away.

You have a front row seat to Mean Girls (or Boys)

Teenagers are sometimes mean. They speak without thinking and often react quickly to perceived injustices. Confidences may be betrayed, there may be disagreements, or they may simply grow apart, sometimes leaving your child behind. As the adult, you have to remember that some separations are fleeting, so it might be wise to not speak your mind. Going all “Momma Bear” can backfire. The friendship may be back that week or even the next day. If it really is over, and you have grown attached to that person, you may also have to deal with your own feelings of loss, without making your child feel worse.

You have to watch them struggle

Being a parent sometimes means you have to watch your child get hurt. Unfortunately, this is a part of growing up. When they make poor choices, for example, not doing their homework or forgetting a practice or other commitment, they need to face the consequences.

Though a parent’s instinct is often to “save” a child, it is often better for them to learn a life lesson when the stakes are small rather than later in life when they are all-important. Then there are some things, like relationships, that we have no control over.

It is tough to see your child go through a breakup, whether it is their first romantic relationship or the end of a childhood friendship. At these times, all we can do is be there.

You have to force them to do “grown-up” things

This may be talking to a teacher or resolving a disagreement. You may get pushback when telling them to make their own appointments or finding their own solutions. Remember that you want to be out of a job someday. Let them fail. Teach them to be self-sufficient, require it of them. When asked for your opinion, instead of answering, start asking, “Well what do you think?” (As a teen this drove me crazy, but it was one of the best things my parents did for me.) Don’t always rescue them (this is a difficult call, because sometimes they really do need you to intervene) but offer guidance if needed. (This can be in the form of rehearsing with them or maybe offering a script for phone calls, or pointing out what they can expect in certain situations.)

The teenage years are nothing if not unpredictable. Hugs and scowls can be expected on any given day (and sometimes both in the same hour). As a parent, your patience will likely be tested, time and again. When I hit this stage of parenting, I took the time to make many calls to my own mom – to apologize.

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