Tension on the tightrope; walking the fine line of parenting teenagers

I bumped into a friend of mine while dropping my daughter off at church the other day. She seemed visibly stressed and tired so I asked her what was going on.

My friend has been divorced for about ten years, and she and her ‘ex’ have joint custody of the kids. Her daughter doesn’t want to go to her dad’s anymore. He doesn’t pay much attention to her and she feels lonely and out of place with his ‘other’ family.

When she is at her dad’s there’s a lot of conflict and strife. She doesn’t get along with her step siblings. There is constant turmoil, and her dad and stepmom are on the brink of divorce. There isn’t much room in this family for her.

Amidst the chaos, she is invisible.

“The postmodern family is often so concerned about the needs, struggles, and issues of parents that the emotional and developmental needs of the children go largely unmet.” -Chap Clark, Hurt 2.0; Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers

Boy, could I relate! My dad remarried shortly after my parents’ divorce and started a new family. It was a loving home, but I never really fit in. And I never got the time and attention that an adolescent girl so desperately needs.

The teenage years are tough enough. Hormones are raging and emotions are confusing. Bodies are changing. Teens are awake when the world sleeps, and sleeping when the rest of the world is awake. It’s a strange time of life.

When you pile on family chaos and neglect, their chances of successfully getting through adolescence are significantly diminished.

Teenagers need their parents more than ever.

“There is a hunger for genuine and meaningful relationships so pervasive among teenagers and young adults today that experts now cite “relational deprivation” as one of the marks of today’s emerging generations” -Walt Mueller, Youth Culture 101

Parents today seem more interested in their own pursuits, finding love or finding themselves, or living their own dreams, than actually finishing what they started when they had kids. We, as parents, have become very self absorbed.

I often wonder – Where is the sacrifice in parenting? Why do we feel entitled to have kids, yet not feel compelled to sacrifice for them?

Later that day, as I thought more about my friend’s daughter’s situation, I wondered, ‘how did we as parents become so selfish?’ How did we stray so far from how parents were many generations ago?

My mother-in-law grew up in a family that over-parented her. They were oppressive. Her childhood was filled with fear, and a lot of guilt and shame. It was not OK to question mom or dad. Conflict was just swept under the rug. And, there was no freedom to learn, explore, or express yourself.

How did we come from a place of overbearing parenting, to a place of neglectful parenting? From being helicopter parents to ones who neglect to parent at all?

It blows my mind.

Society is like a pendulum. We find ourselves too extreme in one direction so we swing the pendulum the other way.

However, instead of stopping in the middle, the pendulum picks up speed as it flies right past the point of healthy balance. Before we know it, we find ourselves on the other extreme, and we are no better off.

Why can’t we live in the middle? Why is moderation seemingly unattainable?

It is a fine line to achieve and maintain balance in parenting. We experience tension as we keep ourselves from going too far one way or too far the other way. It is a juggling act. It is the tension of parenting. And, it’s part of the deal.

Tension will always be part of the process, because our tendency will always be to go too far. We just want to keep that pendulum swinging! It’s in our DNA.

Both my teenagers have recently gotten their first boyfriends. Right when I thought I had this parenting thing down . . . . BAM! . . . they start dating! And, I am a bumbling idiot!

I have found the trickiest part of parenting a teenager with a boyfriend is finding balance. It seems as though I am walking a tightrope, and I could fall to my parenting death at any moment!

My girls are young women, but they still need parenting at 14 and 16 (despite what they may think!), and they still need limits. They need a lot of guidance at this age. The issues are substantially bigger and scarier, and the consequences more drastic.

The lines of communication must remain open. I fear the day that my girls stop talking to me about their boyfriends. I know that if they don’t value our relationship, it could be very bad for them. We could lose them to a dark, painful path.

It is important to share their excitement and celebrate in their joys of life. They need to be able to talk through the many new experiences and feelings they are having with their mom. And, I want to laugh and rejoice with them.

However, I can’t just be their friend. I have to be their parent. My husband and I are the only parents they’ve got. And we could be the only voice of truth they hear in their social media world.

I recently met my mentor for coffee. She told me about a friend of hers who worked outside the home until her kids were around 10 and 12 , then she quit her job and stayed home with them. She believed that kids need parents more during their adolescent years then when they are little.

“Christ Frappier, an investigator with Vermont’s state public defender’s office said ‘What I am seeing in recent years is a total and complete alienation of youth. And it is not coming from them; it is coming from the adults who aren’t bothering to reach out to them.'” -Chap Clark, Hurt 2.0; Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers

Unfortunately, many people quit parenting when their kids reach the teenage years. They think they are done.

Kids need involved parents during adolescence more than ever.

The world speaks loudly to our kids. It speaks through absent fathers, broken families, and childhood abuses. The world speaks loudly through public schools, movies, and social media. The world speaks loudly about the issues of pain, suffering, and morality.

Our kids will listen to whoever is speaking the loudest to them, whether it is truth or not.