My husband forwarded an article to me, “The thing about raising teenagers that no one wants to say out loud.” (link below) It hit me… hard… so hard that I felt compelled to share and expand on it. If your family is struggling, you’ll definitely relate. It’s all too true, and I experienced it, too.
Therapists and coaches can help you through it, but talking to a professional once a week isn’t enough. What do you do for the other 167 hours that you’re feeling alone until the next appointment? I asked some parents what worked for them, and share their answers at the end.
Working with parents of teens, especially when their child is ‘off-track’, they often share how isolated they feel. Somehow it’s very different from the challenges of parenting a toddler or elementary school child. There is a unique sense of separateness when things go awry during the teen years.
There is a great deal of shame around having an off-track kid. My husband and I experienced that 15 years ago — the isolation, the loss of connection with those parents whose kids seemed to be on the path to success. Sadly, at the time when we needed the most support, we felt the most alone.
It could be mental illness, drugs, cutting, the goth look and a whole host of embarrassing behaviors. They are our secret, our loss.
Have you noticed how little you think you have in common with everyone else? The truth is that (almost) nobody gets through these years unscathed; however, since you only know what they are willing to admit to, it’s easy to assume that you’re alone in your misery.
What’s different now?
When the kids are toddlers, we are all newbies, learning the ropes. We seek the comfort of being in a group that is figuring things out. Children still respond to time outs and toys taken away. We feel somewhat in control.
By the time the kids reach the teen years, GPAs, college and a job are looming. The stakes are high. We may feel our children’s accomplishments (or lack of) are a reflection on us and our ability to guide them into a successful future.
There is also the loss of ‘the dream’ that we all have from the day our child is born, or earlier. It’s the vision of what our family will look like and the trajectory of our child’s life through high school, college and beyond.
While everyone else is bragging about their kids, those of us who are struggling hunker down and listen politely. When other parents are talking about college applications and their child’s bright future, we keep our mouth shut or avoid those conversations altogether. And when we dare to talk about our struggles, it makes others uncomfortable. What is there to say? Secretly, we are crying inside. Parents want to brag about their children… but we cannot brag. We are sad, angry, and filled with grief. We’re feeling alone and isolated.
What can you do to feel more connected, supported and empowered?
Here’s what other parents have to say:
“I reached out to the parents of kids that my child was hanging out. Some of them were in the trenches, too. Our group grew, and I felt less alone and more understood.”
“I had one or two close friends with whom I could share my story. It didn’t matter that their kids were doing just fine. These friends listened when I needed to unload, and helped me see that I wasn’t a horrible parent or a failure as a parent. They held my secrets and were there for me. I am eternally grateful to them.”
“Meditation and yoga were a lifesaver for me. They helped stop the constant, anxious chatter in my head for a little while each day. That shifted me out of crisis mode, and I was better able to handle daily life and be present to my family.”
“It helped to focus on this moment, the NOW, not projecting far into the future. There was no way to know how things would turn out, so I held on to the vision of him being okay. I also have a friend whose son was in serious trouble in high school. He finally turned the corner and is doing well, so I see that and feel hopeful.”
“Al-Anon was a great help to me and my family. I don’t know how we would have come through those years without the support of a caring and non-judgmental community.”
“Never give up hope! Even during the worst of it, if they’re still with you, still alive, there is hope.”
“Self-care. I asked myself, ‘What can I do in one minute? Five minutes?’ Just breathing in fresh air and seeing the sun shine could lift my spirits.”
“I had to remind myself that children make choices, and I cannot control their choices. I don’t have that kind of power, and I am not responsible for another’s choices.”
Fern Weis is a parent coach, specializing in supporting parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations (including underachieving, disrespectful behavior, addiction recovery and more). With parent-centered coaching, Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life’s challenges. Learn more about coaching and workshops at www.fernweis.com or www.familyrecoverypartners.com.
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