Updated: Feb 16, 2022
She walks past me and slams the door. I call out asking if she is alright and the answer is ‘leave me alone’. I am left worried about her mental health yet angry that she is treating me this way. Where is the little girl who used to yell ‘I love you Mummy, the little girl who once sat on my lap as we sang together. Has she gone? Well no she’s changing heading towards the inevitability of womanhood. Boy it happened in a blink of the eye. It literally seems I tucked her in one night to the wiggles sleep CD, whispered ‘I love you’ and found in the morning a stomping beast had taken her place.
Who is this new girl? Well the short answer is: she is a teenager and the long story is – well that's complicated.
She is finding herself, but in order to do that she has to lose herself. She needs to discard the little girl she once was, a bit like a snake shedding its skin. That little girl now symbolises all that she doesn’t want to be, she wants to be a grown up but is kind of lost in a turbulent holding pattern.
For me the pain is palpable and sometimes my heart aches. I miss her. I really really miss her. But, like her I also have a new world to explore. My world and my purpose is changing. I am now an on call Uber driver, a cash cow, a person she needs but only when it benefits her, and a punching bag (metaphorically of course). I allow myself to be these things because in a sense it allows me to still feel wanted, and at this moment I kind of need that. However hard I try and push I am now forced to find a new me. I have no hobbies, I have no outside life because I was entangled in her and her life. School, netball, dance and singing were all that I knew for the longest of times. There lies my problem and a problem many parents have.
So how do we reinvent ourselves as peripheral parents? This blog is about my experience and the following are my 10 tips for surviving teenage years.
My top ten tips for coping with the teen years
1. First give yourself permission to grieve – because this is a grieving period. Like grief you will probably go through stages including denial and depression (looking over old photos and crying), anger, bargaining (although may I suggest limiting this as it usually doesn't work and leaves you really tired) and finally acceptance (it is what it is). This process is needed and very normal. Be kind to yourself, this is a really hard time in your parental calendar.
2. Understand the teenage brain because it’s very different from ours. Remember when your child was 2 years of age, well in essence we are back there again. This is a time of emotional overloads because they are using primitive brains with little hope of self-regulation. We need to be kind to our teenagers as well, for they can’t help being over reactive. Our super power is found in not sinking into this emotional void, but taking ourselves away from it. My suggestion – go for a walk – don’t react – remove yourself and above all PICK YOUR BATTLES and pick ones that you know you will win.
3. Let go of all EXPECTATIONS and I write that in bold because this is the key to navigating this period. Expect nothing and guess what – you are never let down. Don’t expect her to put away the dishes, clean her room, pick up the dog mess, get into the car on time, or to be kind. Then when any of those things happen you will be extra happy because you didn’t expect it. I think this is the hardest concept for parents to understand but the grim reality is you don’t have control anymore. You have influence but no control – so stop pushing against it and in my experience life becomes a lot easier.
4. Use humour when you can, it’s a life saver. Laugh at yourself when you can as well. When I talk humour I don’t need making fun of your teenager, that is cruel, but see the humour in things. We often laugh now at the ridiculousness of meltdowns or when the remote is broken again (usually because it’s been thrown across the room by me). Just laugh when you can but never at anyone else expense.
5. Cherish the moments when you can actively and positively engage with your teen. Rule here is reestablish the relationship whenever you can. Watch Ninja Warrior or Glow Up, go shopping (although it’s my experience that this will cost you a lot of money), or go for a walk together. No matter what it is, if its positive and it means you are together then do it. These are also the times when you can open up dialogue and have conversations.
6. Know this will not last. It’s a transition - a passing phase.
7. Hope (but remember don’t expect) a thank you and hopefully a sorry in their 21st speech. Or plan your speech now by making notes and that way you won’t leave anything out. I do this when things get overwhelming and it helps me find some humour and in a strange way grounds me.
8. Take time for yourself. Start to find a hobby or connections that are outside of the teenage bubble. This can involve a search but think of the things that you have been meaning to do and start something new.
9. Remember there will be times when you get angry, sad or frustrated with your teenager. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s a hard journey and there are times you will falter. You are human after all.
10. If you are really overwhelmed and struggling don’t delay, seek help. Counselling is an awesome way to make sense of your feelings and make way for new ways of being.
I have taken this time to update my blog because I want to add some key information I have gleamed from my teenage clients.
From their perspective they say:
Stop pressuring me. All the yelling, telling me to clean my room, do the dishes, finish my homework is making me feel isolated and overwhelmed. If my room is messy then its ok because its my room - just leave it. If you ask me to do something I am NOT going to do it straight away - its just a thing that I do - be patient and it just might get done. Well maybe....perhaps
Sometimes I stay up at night watching Netflix because it is the only time that I can feel quiet and have true 'me time'.
I wont share everything with you because sometimes those things are used against me in the heat of the argument. I do want time to have a conversation with you but it sure wont be when you are yelling at me or when we have just had a fight. Find opportunities and I will be open to talking.
I am not the problem in our lives. Sending me to Counselling isn't going to work if you believe I need fixing. I want to be able to talk to someone in confidence but not if I am forced to do so.