Friday, September 17, 2010

Hopefully some day you will have a teenager

Last night my daughter asked, "Why do people have kids if they are just going to spend their lives arguing with them?"
Why do people have kids? There are as many answers to that as there are people, however, most people don't say, "I want to have kids so we can argue." Actually, while people may talk about having kids, they often end up saying, "I want to have a baby." They picture experiencing the joys of cuddling a baby and picking out cute baby clothes. Their minds may travel down the road to first words and first steps. Some prospective parents may dream as far down the road as block towers, tea parties, and cheering for their mini-soccer player. But that is as far as the fantasy of parenthood usually goes. Have you ever heard a couple say, "We've decided to have a teenager"? Fortunately, parenting is a journey. Starting with conception we are given time to learn and grow, as our child learns and grows. With the exception of parents who adopt older children or who come into a family that already has children, most of us do not jump into parenting mid-stream.

If you have a baby you will also, hopefully, have a teenager. Some people might sarcastically ask why anyone would hope for a teenager, but I assure you that the alternative is not something most parents like to contemplate, much less experience. Hopefully some day you will have a teenager. How do you feel when you think about your child reaching the teenage years? Our society has cultivated a terribly negative attitude towards young people ages 13-19. I have three daughters so that may affect my perspective, but I think that girls get more than their share of this attitude. The number of times I have heard someone say, "Wait until she's 15" is astounding.

The truth is that I look forward to when they are 15. Not that I am in a hurry for them to grow up, I think their ages right now are pretty cool. However, my oldest will turn 14 in a few weeks and, if the past year is any indication, I expect that the next few years will be an enjoyable experience. I have had the pleasure of getting to know some of my daughter's friends who are older, and have found them to be delightful and amazing people. Their parents would agree with me, too.

How is it, in a society that almost universally maligns teenagers, that I am looking forward to the teenage years? Who are these other parents who think that people in the later years of their transition from child to adult are a whole lot of fun to have around on this adventure called life? What makes us different? What makes our children different?

The answer lies in our relationships. We are not perfect in our parenting, we have our grumpy days and times when we do not live up to our own ideals. Our children are not mini-me's who live lives of obedience and compliance. We do not expect our children to live their own lives in ways that make our lives as parents easier. We live our lives in partnership with each other. We all live within the realities of our chosen lives and our children understand that some times there are limits, but these are not arbitrary limits. We put our family relationships before everything else. We do not feel that because our children are teenagers now they need less of us. We are as committed to meeting the needs of our teenagers as we were to meeting the needs of our newborn babies. Think about that for a moment: We are as committed to meeting the needs of our teenagers as we were to meeting the needs of our newborn babies.

Meeting the needs of young adults can be every bit as exhausting, challenging and complex as meeting the needs of a baby. It is even more so if their needs were not met during some period of their earlier childhood or infancy. If there are wounds that need healing or trust that must be mended, if you as a parent are not used to being aware of their needs or if they do not trust that you really want to meet their needs no strings attached, the path before you may be intimidating. Meeting the needs of your child at any age is much easier if you made your relationship a priority from the moment you decided to become a parent. The relationship you have during the teen years is the relationship you have been building for over a decade. It is also affected by your attitude, expectations and beliefs about teenagers.

Hopefully some day you will have a teenager. Hopefully some day you will enjoy having a teenager. The choice is yours. Do you want to spend the years arguing with your child or do you want to spend them enjoying your life together? When your child is a young adult do you want them to spend as much time as possible away from you, counting the months until they can move out and have a life of their own? The choice is yours. You can spend your time and energy trying to get your child to live life according to your expectations of who they will be and how they will behave and what they will do, or you can let them live their own life from the day they are born and spend your time and energy on your relationship. You can support them in who they are and what they like to do and how they like to do it from the start.

Putting your relationship first means that as a young adult your child will be able to trust you. They will know that they are free to be who they are without being criticized. They will come to you expecting honest, respectful communication about anything they want to discuss. They will know that if something does not turn out as they hoped or planned that you will be there to support them, no matter what, without lectures or punishment. They will feel your support for their dreams and passions. Putting your relationship first means that you and your child can enjoy the teenage years.

Revisit my blog post Trust to read more about parenting and trusting our children.

If you already have a teenager in the house and you would like to argue less and enjoy life together more revisit my post Conflict or Connection.

You will find a glimpse of the relationship I hope to have with teens in my post I don't tattle.


9 comments:

  1. This is great! A few years ago, we had three teens -- 13, 14 and 19 -- we were rich in teens! They're almost 17, almost 18 and 23, now. It's been wonderful having our teens -- like all the other years, these pass too fast!

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  2. I have two girls (16 and almost 13). I can't tell you how much I enjoy them - and their friends! I do wish that more teens were 'enjoyed' by their parents. If I could recommend just one book for parents with teens (and preferably younger!) it would be Parent/Teen Breakthrough, The Relationship Approach by Mira Kirshenbaum and Charles Foster.

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  3. I love this. I deep down truly love having my teenager!! She has been such a joy to have. There was a time where we didn't see eye to eye and then things changed. We respect each other, she's VERY helpful (always has been) and talks to me about her interests, joys and boys..and much more!!
    I do totally see how we as parents have no clue what it's going to be like to raise a teenager. You don't hear about that until you are into the midst of it and think wow...how did my child grow up so fast and then they move out. I can't believe my daughter just turned 14!! I look at her and think where did my little girl go?!? She's so grown up now, dressing her own way, hair her own way, her own friends etc. I love being able to share our lives together and be able to really talk to one another. I can't even remember the last time we had an argument. It's been quite awhile!!

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  4. Oh oh pick me :) Hee hee :)
    My oldest is 15 :)

    He is an awesome person.

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  5. I love this post! I found your blog through a friend's link on Facebook, and I love reading it!

    I'm looking forward to having a teenager (my son is 9 months...) but I'm also scared because there will be so many things I can't protect him from and will I be able to be all that he needs? But I expect it to be an amazing adventure, just like having a baby has been so far!

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  6. This reminds me of a story my husband's mom told me. When he was about 7, he asked his parents if he had to become a teenager when he got older. He had apparently already begun to internalize the idea that parents and teens have to have an adversarial relationship and wasn't a fan of it. Luckily, they were able to work around this cultural norm. Hopefully we can do the same when the time comes. Thanks for a thought provoking post!

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  7. Great post... I have heard countless times, "Just wait until they're teenagers!" in a warning tone... usually said during the absolute most difficult moments with my little ones, which is infuriating. I come from a family of five children, and my mother recalls our teenage years with fondness - for her it was a fun and interesting time. I have looked forward to the day that my children would be teenagers since before their conception. (While still enjoying the ages they are!) I know that each stage brings with it new challenges - growth tends to do that! - it will also bring new blessings. So many parents of teens and grown children find that to be naive on my part, since obviously, I haven't been there yet. But I strongly feel that the parenting we do now directly affects the relationship we are cultivating. If you disrespect and disregard, control and manipulate your child from infancy on, then it is not surprising that they would reject that in their teen years. Time will tell, I say. Ask me again in ten years, when I'll be knee-deep in teens. :)

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  8. Yes, beautifully said. Our girls are 19 and almost-18 and they are lovey people and wonderful companions. Having a teen is a thing to be greatly desired and thoroughly enjoyed.

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  9. Hi there! Great blog post -- we'd actually like to reprint it in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine: www.pathwaystofamilywellness.org. Please contact us at pathways@icpa4kids.com, and I'll go over the details with you. Thanks for your consideration! All best, Andrea (for Pathways)

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