Adolescence is perhaps nature’s way of preparing parents to welcome the empty nest.
—Karen Savage and Patricia Adams, authors
Teenagers can be beastly; they can be sarcastic and rude, self centered and opinionated, bossy and egotistical. They are not doing this intentionally; they are fighting to discover their identities. It is their unique process for figuring out who they are and how they fit into our world. They have to be this way to protect their emerging independence, which is being threatened by the power we have over their lives.
It’s funny how, all of a sudden, we are not as smart or interesting as we used to be. It’s not personal, and taking offense will make this transition more difficult for all involved. A sense of humor is highly recommended as you travel through this phase; it is important to keep things in perspective and not overreact. Your teenager still needs you to set reasonable limits, and you do them no favor by greeting rude behavior with open arms. But understand that it is an uneasy time for your child, knowing they are on their way to adulthood and that soon they will be the captains of their own ships. They have to make it look like you don’t know what you are doing so their decisions will stand a chance. They seem as if they don’t care about what you think so they can figure out what they really think. They have to start to detach so they can stand on their own when the time comes. If they don’t practice this now, their independence day will come anyway—and they will not be ready.
This is when you have to practice the delicate art of holding on and letting go at the same time, of giving your children room to explore while keeping them connected. You might feel like asserting your authority even more at this point, but no one wins when it turns into a power struggle. I have danced this dance with my own children, and I see it reenacted every year as the new group of ninth graders enters the high school, and the parents have difficulty adjusting to this new level of independence. It is like that new dance step you are trying to master; you take a few steps forward and a few back, make a misstep, and find your balance again. It is a learning process for both parties.
Your children still need you, and you can’t cling too tightly, but don’t let them push you away either. Make it a point to spend time with them even when they tell you that you embarrass them. Don’t take it personally, and remember that they still love you; you are allowed to take pleasure in knowing that they will embarrass their own children one day. I remember when my daughter told my husband and me that she was grateful we didn’t “completely” embarrass her in front of her friends.
You have to keep your children’s confidences when they share information with you and not overreact, because if you do, you will not be the one they turn to next time. They will go through phases and style changes, and this is an area where less reaction is sometimes better. Let them work it out for themselves, or they may dig their heels in deeper. For example, although they deny it, I found that my daughters’ tattoos multiplied exponentially in response to my objections to them.
When you taught your children to ride a bicycle, after many practice runs, there was a time when you had to let go, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. It’s kind of like that now. It is hard for parents to let go of the control their children so valiantly fight for, but at some point, we have to trust in the values we have instilled in our children. This does not mean we will stop worrying or that we have no say in what goes on. It just means we have to be brave enough to give them room to grow. It is the natural progression of their development, and although we tend to focus on the problems they may encounter, we ultimately want our children to be strong and self-sufficient. We don’t want them to be afraid to live their lives without us, and our children need the courage they get from our blessings to make this transition.
Although your relationship with your children changes, and there is a sense of loss that you feel because of this, your bond can grow into something stronger and more extraordinary. You will find a sense of quiet satisfaction as you watch your children deal with the situations that life entails—at times still looking for your reassurance and support—but only when you are not looking. They need you always; the reasons and intensity may change, and your relationship may take some twists and turns, but you have much to teach your teenage children and much to learn from them. Communicate, make it a point to spend time together, forgive each other, be honest, and be open to listening to each other.
Change and growth are part of every facet of our lives, and it is nowhere more evident than in the parent-child relationship. Change is inevitable—to resist it is a wasteful use of time and emotion.
Embrace it instead, and meet up on the other side of this transition as adults who have a solid level of respect and love for each other.
As your children grow, try to embrace the changes that this transition brings.
Recall your own teenage years and the angst you felt. While times have changed, many aspects of growing up have not. Try to recall how you felt growing up; your children’s experiences are not much different.