A fellow parenting blogger asked me recently what the biggest challenge of parenting teenagers is compared to the younger years. My answer was quite simply, learning to give up control.
I say learning because it does not come naturally as a mother to let go, it takes not only willpower but careful management. My “helpful suggestions” seen in the early primary years by my kids as genuine pearls of wisdom are viewed in the secondary and university years as attempts to “micro-manage” and as any parent navigating the same path will know, this is quite simply a cardinal sin as your offspring attempt to strike-out on their own.
Over the years I have tried to stand back and be mindful and respectful of their journey towards adulthood, but that doesn’t mean to say it has been easy.
The threats to our teenagers are very real and scary in this 21st century world they are growing up in and so very different to those of our own halcyon days, but how can they learn to manage life’s challenges and navigate their own path if we are holding them back for fear of what they might see, do or experience?
To really properly learn how to deal with a scenario you must first of all be exposed to it and I don’t mean deliberately seeking out danger, but over-protection of our teens and keeping them away from the ugly bits of life isn’t the answer, even if for some it might seem so at the time.
There does, however, need to be a balance between over-managing and allowing too much freedom too soon. One way of achieving that according to the parenting experts is to guide them without dictating and instead of rules have agreements that your teenagers feel have been reached collaboratively.
Setting boundaries is familiar parenting language, but it is a phrase which takes on subtle nuances of its own in the older years. Inevitably those boundaries will sometimes be pushed, tested and maybe even broken – that is life, that is growing up, that is exploring – after all isn’t life a voyage of discovery and those teenage years have discovery stamped all over them.
My blog was born from that standpoint. As I became the mother to two teenagers I was simultaneously approaching my midlife years with its own set of personal hurdles to overcome. Discovery about the next stage was what simultaneously scared and excited me. I wanted to share it and learn from those at the same point. My journey continues and so does that of my teens.
I don’t want my teens to look back and hate me for their teenage years. I want them to say like I do about mine “what fun I had.” I want them to seize opportunities. I want them to make up their own minds’ about the world, to have their own opinions. They might be informed by me but I don’t want them to be me or anyone else. I want them to quite simply be themselves and for them to do that I must relinquish control.
I remember when my eldest went off and had his ear pierced being quizzed about my reaction by other mums who were convinced that this seemingly rebellious act would be a step too far for me! Hilarious on many levels. It’s what teenagers do nowadays and is such an insignificant and superficial act in the grand scheme of things. Also who were they to ask that question? They knew nothing of me, our real life as a family, what made us tick, laugh, cry and unite.
Judging others I have found is a big part of parenting by some people, born undoubtedly from insecurity. Those that speculate about the parenting habits and decisions of others invariably have little faith in their own.
Ultimately we are all different. On occasion I might raise an eyebrow on hearing a story and say “Where are the parents?” but I try not to judge others by their parenting protocol, maybe just question their ignorance.
There is no rule book, no universal instructions of parenting that we all need to abide by.
I live my life on my own terms. I have zero point zero interest in what anyone else thinks about that and I apply the same rule to my parenting choices and those of my teenagers. Let me be. Let them be. Most importantly, let them learn, develop and flourish.
In my opinion, the key to giving up parental control is to step back but not away, to show an interest and to be involved without controlling. Although undeniably tough at times, it is a strategy that has worked for me. I am happy in the knowledge that an environment of open communication, discussion and compromise with my teens ensures they turn to me when they need to and are respectful if not always in agreement with my choices, more so than if I tried to control their every move through a paranoia of potential consequences or their desire to do things differently.