It can be hard to accept as an adult parenting teens that perhaps you are part of the problem. The ‘problem’ being the repetitive arguments that start with a niggle (bedroom a bombsite, clean laundry chucked into the bottom of the wardrobe), and escalate to a full-blown blue. The kind that leaves you reeling, feeling wounded and unsure that you’re doing this parenting thing right.
For no matter what you do or say, or the increasingly creative consequences you give for poor behaviour, like night follows day, you know that very same poor behaviour will be repeated before long. Over time, it wears you down and you start to fear that you can’t go through it all again.
Same approach = same result
But you do. You do go through it all again because you haven’t yet thought of another way of parenting teens. And thus, you reach the same gut-wrenching, useless, unhelpful result – and your relationship with your 6ft 4 inch hulk of a man-child fractures just that little bit more.
It was in the midst of such a repetitive argument with my eldest son that the realisation that I was part of the problem hit me. Yes, I was the parent but simply demanding that my views be respected and my requests be met was no longer cutting it. Not any more. My stance was escalating the situation and just like a toddler, my teen dug in his heels and roared.
Read this too: A quick guide to managing tantrums in older kids
In a toddler, this behaviour is understandable. They can’t express themselves in the way they want. So they get frustrated, they throw tantrums. As their parents, we too feel frustrated at times but equally, understand that this is a phase that will pass.
But when teenagers (often also unable to express themselves properly, frustrated, hormonal, under pressure from school, friendships, relationships and social media) behave in the same way, somehow punishments, restrictions and shouting become the norm and we shake our heads wondering why none of these parenting ‘tools’ are working.
Parenting teens requires a shift
Part of the issue for us was that I was struggling to transition from parenting children who pretty much did as I asked (after a bit of nagging), to parenting a child who just did not care and dug his heels in AND was a young adult. My ego could not handle being disobeyed and it became a power struggle; one that I was determined to win but could only lose.
In the end, I came to realise that the old nugget of ‘not sweating the small stuff’ was really true. If he was practising safe behaviours, if he was basically polite in his interactions with us and cleared up after himself in the common areas of our home, then the rest was his business.
I had to learn to close the door on his room and ignore him going to school in a dirty uniform. That’s because I handed over his laundry duties so it became his responsibility. I accepted (reluctantly) that his standard of cleanliness was different to mine.
I wanted a relationship with my son more than I wanted a clean room/son. So I concentrated on keeping the lines of communication open. I made sure I always started and ended the day with telling him I loved him and giving him a hug (some days it was like hugging a plank of wood).
Seek outside help
I could not do this on my own so saw a counsellor where I could scream into the sofa in a safe, non-judgy place. I also took my son to mentoring sessions with a guy who really got him.
Importantly, I had to learn how to practise self-care. The more I did, the better I was able to handle the situation.
‘This is your home but this is our house and every single one of us in this family has to follow certain rules if we want to live together happily.’ I said this so often, I even bored myself.
I’d explain that just as my son was learning to be an adult, I was learning to parent a young adult. Neither of us had done it before and we were bound to make mistakes. Lots of mistakes.
Trust the years
We’re two years on and I know we’ll have more ups and downs in the years to come, but that’s normal. Our relationship now is kind and loving and thoughtful. He’s still a plonker sometimes and I’m still a dictatorial cow if I haven’t filled my cup enough (metaphorically speaking, I’m not talking grog here), but we’re good.
I never thought we would reach this point, so for anyone suffering in the trenches, please know that it does pass, even if it is a white-knuckle ride. We have to trust that the years of parenting we’ve put in, all the love and the laughter and the talking, will pay off in the end.
What got us through were the self-care and the act of rubbing my son’s back or touching his arm on even the toughest day. That physical connection, however brief and however much rejected, reiterated the fact that I was his mum and I loved him. Always had, always would and no matter how far he pushed back, that love was a constant that was never going to change. Even if my style of parenting had to.