my beautiful teenager

The surprising truth about parenting a teenager

You don’t have to be a parent to know that the general consensus around raising teenagers is “oh boy, hold on to your hat, it’s going to get bumpy” or perhaps something a little more blunt than that. There is this universal understanding that the teen years are the hardest to navigate as a parent, with perhaps the exception of the toddler years. I see it every time someone learns that I have a 14 year old daughter and they respond with a loud whistle or raised brows and big grin and say, “oh boy, you’re in the teen years!” or “phew! I remember those years, hang in there!” or even, “God bless you, teen girls are so hard!”

I’ve heard it all, and I’ve even said these things. I’ve joked with other parents about needing prayers to get through the teen years, or about the extra grey hairs growing on my head, and they’ve laughed or nodded knowingly. Because everyone seems to agree, parenting a teenager is challenging, trying, and even painful.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned  since we entered this phase of life nearly 2 years ago, the surprising truth about raising a teenager: It’s actually the most extraordinary stage of parenting I’ve experienced.

Here’s why.

The relationship is starting to shift. Her needs have changed. My daughter doesn’t call me mommy anymore and she certainly doesn’t need me to hold her hand when crossing the street, pick out her clothes, or even pack her lunches. She is becoming increasingly more independent each year, and while that may sound sad at first, the reality is it has created space and allowed for a new dynamic that I don’t have yet with my younger two.

Beautiful Hannah

She doesn’t need me in the same ways, but she still needs me. Often for something really important like someone to listen to her (just listen) when she’s struggling with a particular friendship or obstacle.

She needs me to set boundaries and then step back and give her the freedom to try new things, even fail, within those boundaries, while remaining close enough to help her up when she falls.

She needs me to know that sometimes a good cry, for no particular reason, is cathartic and part of life. But a hug and chocolate can make it all seem better.

She needs me to speak truth into her life, about how I need and rely on God every day so she may learn to do the same.

She needs my advice about decisions that will shape the rest of her life — big decisions and character defining moments — but only when she asks for it.

She needs me to recognize that she is not a little girl anymore, but also that sometimes she still needs her mom and be ready and available for those moments, without hovering or complaining when they pass.

Mom and daughter

I’m not saying this is always easy, this shift in how she needs me and the ways we relate to each other. And I most definitely get it wrong! I criticize, nag, and yell. I have a tendency to be sarcastic when I should be gentle. I ask too many questions when she doesn’t want to talk, and sometimes offer advice before it’s solicited. I’m still learning.

And for her part, sometimes I am the best mom ever and she will thank me 100 times for something little, and other times I am the enemy or invisible woman who she takes for granted. She’s still learning.

But even with the parts we get wrong; even on the days it’s really hard and one or both of us feels angry, scared, or disappointed in the other, this new relationship is nothing short of phenomenal.

Parenting a teenager is like getting an exclusive preview of the adult this child is going to be. It’s like reading a book about your favorite character and actually getting to play a role in influencing some of their story.

Because you know them more intimately than anyone else. You know where they’ve come from. You know what they’re afraid of, and what they hope for. You get to see all the good in them and the potential that is yet to be realized, but also know there are real struggles and mistakes to be made, which make the victories all the more sweet.

I’m still fairly new to this parenting a teen stage. And maybe it will get more challenging in the coming years, or with my other children. But what I want to say to every other parent who is approaching this stage: Take heart! Because while it might come with some really difficult moments, it’s also so much better than anyone ever tells you!

mom and teenage daughter

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