They say that experience is your greatest teacher. That your wins, losses, failures and mistakes guide you. And it’s true. There are lessons in each of those. But what if you have to perform in a big way and don’t have any experience yet? Like being a Mom. In this most crucial role, you have to draw on the experience of others – Your Mom, friends, books, anyone who’s been there. Coming off of my most challenging year as a Mom, I wanted to share my three biggest lessons as a mom of teens and hope they can help you improve your connection with our teenager.
If you’ve been following my story, you know that our family crisis actually started at the end of 2021, for me, anyway. My son had been struggling for several years, but we didn’t catch any serious signs from him until November 2021 when he threw us a sign we couldn’t miss. That’s when our journey of healing began. We met with various mental health and medical professionals, researched and read about how to help our son and ourselves. It was trial by fire and incredibly exhausting. But we gained tools to better handle our challenges and to communicate with each other. We are now stronger than ever individually, and as a family.
While I churned and clawed for answers, I leaned into self-reflection. I noticed that when I was a mess, my son was more anxious. When I was centered and lovingly present, he was more calm and willing to listen. Throughout our healing, I continued to make myself a priority. I journaled, exercised, read and focused on my physical and mental health. I learned tools to keep myself calm and not try to control the uncontrollable. I share some of my favorites here.
I guided and supported and let my son lead. As we’ve grown closer over this past year, I do my best to stay out of his way while he makes decisions, learns and continues to gain confidence in who he is. This has not only helped him, but by removing the necessity to control everything, I have more peace.
I also discovered that if I wanted our relationship to change, I had to go first. I had to acknowledge my opportunities, let my child know that I was not perfect and that I didn’t have all the answers. And that I didn’t expect him to either. This was the first step in improving connection my with teenager.
The second big lesson I learned is that teenagers don’t tell you what’s going on, because they don’t know. The part of their brain responsible for self-awareness and emotional control, impulse restraint and decision making is still developing. Their brain is misfiring as it tries to make sense of the world and establish the pathways that will serve them best. (There’s a valid reason the rental car companies won’t rent you a vehicle until you’re 26.) More on teen brains from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Teenagers are not always able to read social cues or interpret other people’s direct responses. They want to be accepted by their peers, but don’t always know which peer groups are best aligned with what they need. They want and need your guidance, but desire independence. If we’re confused by their actions, imagine what’s going on inside their heads. And as parents, we add to the confusion by expecting our teen to act like a mature adult when they haven’t acquired those skills yet.
This past year, we implemented regular check-ins to listen to what each other need and how we are interpreting each others actions. I accept his critical feedback rather than try to explain it and he does the same. This allows us to validate or debunk assumptions and ensure true intentions are understood. I also learned that improving connection with my teenager meant I needed to be available whenever he was ready to talk. And to just listen. Not asking twenty question or asserting of my perspective. Just listening.
Even though your teen has established new friend groups, picks out clothes that you hate or listens to music you don’t care for, you are still their biggest influence. Either by driving them to do the opposite of what you say because of how you treat their decisions or because they feel you are listening to them and support their decisions whether you like them or not. I’m not suggesting you stand back and let them do whatever they want, whenever they want without intervention. However, respecting them as a person who has opinions and interests that may be different than yours goes a long way in improving connection with your teenager.
When I started to listen to understand rather than to control, I could better appreciate where we was coming from and what he needed. When you show your teenager the respect of listening, they tend to listen to your ideas and experiences with respect, as well.
Experience is the best teacher for you and for your teenager. Allowing your teen the room to make their own mistakes, learn who they are and what makes them happy, and love them no matter what they discover, everybody wins. And isn’t that what we all want?
I help women see their situation from different perspectives so they can appreciate their success, evaluate their opportunities, and improve their relationship with themselves and everyone around them.
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