What is the hardest thing you will do as the mom of teenagers?

It may seem like it’s a thousand years off.  I know it sure felt that way to me as I rocked my infant son or watched him as a toddler playing in mudpuddles.  Even in the elementary school years, when he seemed to be growing like a weed and no longer resembled the baby he was, I never dreamed the reality of raising teenagers would hit like it did. 

One day I had a boy and it seems the next day I had a teen.  I wanted to do a quick, easy, safe U-Turn.  The capacity to reverse time just didn’t exist.  There’s no turning back, girlfriends.  Truth be told, we don’t really want to – well, most days we don’t.

Toddler in the Mud

That being said, the day will be upon you before you know it and I want to share a bit of the hard-earned wisdom I’ve been gleaning from this season of parenthood.  Consider it a crash course before you get on the Indy 500 of parenting your adolescent {or, for those of you already operating at cruising speed of “oh my goodness this is real” … you know.  Hopefully this will give you more tools or at least a sense that you aren’t in this alone}.

Give Them Some Elbow Room

It’s been a mantra for my mentor over the years to tell me “give him some psychic space” with regards to my older son.  By that, she doesn’t mean to let him be a psychic {um, no}.  She’s using the word psychic as in “psyche,” meaning soul. 

Each soul is uniquely created by God and needs room to be as it was created to be.  It means allowing our children to think their own thoughts, feel their own feelings, make choices of their own, and differ from us.

In this season, my role is shifting from teacher to coach, cheerleader and listening ear.

All well and good until I see him veering.  Then I freak.  You know.  The fear of what could happen comes flaring up and I feel the need to put up barricades, force him to see from my perspective and take over the steering wheel.

I move from the “give a little input and back off” parenting style to micromanaging, pushing God off the throne and trying to ensure outcomes in a nanosecond.  Ugly stuff.  I can have a very gracious approach, but my intent, at times, has been to control rather than to entrust – to direct rather than empower.



It has taken years for me to learn to back off a bit and this hasn’t happened overnight, but I think my son’s catapult into adolescence has forced me into a speed course in letting go.  You see, there comes a point where your child-turning-adult will buck off constraints and boldly or quietly send you the message, “You can’t make me.”

God planned the growth of our children so they pass through this essential transitional stage of being teenagers.  They are trying on “hats” as they figure out what they believe and discover who they really are. 

They need to decide if they agree with all that has been poured into them over their life so far.  This explains why conflicts can arise so easily if we parents aren’t on our game.  We need to diligently keep our perspective and know this isn’t personal. 

It’s not, you know.


Besides all this, the world tosses things at them rapid fire in this stage of life {especially if they have access to an Iphone or the Internet}.  Will the opinions of others cause them to morph like a chameleon, caving to peer pressure?  Will they have a strong enough inner core to swim upstream when needed? 

The challenges they face demand the delicate balance of our supportive presence while simultaneously being hands-off enough so that they can go about learning and growing on their own.  It’s kind of like we’re building a fence around a large field.  We set the parameters, but we leave them free to roam within our boundaries.  

open space


So, what does release look like?  Mainly, it means letting go of outcomes.  We still invest deeply in our son – keeping the lines of communication open, sharing spiritual wisdom and being available as a sounding board.  Parenting is a balance between cheering on his successes and walking with him through his failures.  We monitor his activity on any screen and as much as possible we spot check his friendships.  

What we don’t do is attempt to arrange the results of his choices.  We can’t ensure our son will walk the straight and narrow or agree with all we have instilled over the years. 

We have laid a foundation and done it in love – with many mistakes along the way.  Don’t we all mix goodness with error as we muddle through this journey of parenthood? 

Now we have to let him go to God, trusting the seeds we planted will flourish better when given some air and sunshine rather than digging them up for repeated inspection and replanting. 


Many years ago I read the book, “Shepherding A Child’s Heart” by Tedd Tripp.  He explained how the role of parents in the life of a child shifts over time.  As our children enter adolescence (or pre-teen years) our parental power shifts from “control” to  “influence.” 

With teens, we share ideas, but we also make room for their thoughts.  We guide them towards what we think is right, but we leave much of the choosing up to them.  Bad choices still receive consequences.  Crossing our solid boundaries never ends in a blessing.  We learn that we don’t “make” them do what we want. 

We give the scary, yet necessary, “enough rope to hang yourself.”



Don’t you want your teen to learn hard lessons while you are present as a safety net, providing support and guiding?  To do this, you have to let them experience the results of their choices.  You have to let them muddle through thinking their own thoughts and sorting out their beliefs and values, and yes, even taking risks that leave you breathless.

At our home we’re focusing on calling out what is good and pouring in a ton of love and affirmation.  We hold consistent and firm moral boundaries.  Ultimately we release our boys into the loving hands of God {claw marks from my clinging mama heart totally at no extra charge}.

We know our sweet children will face hardships. 

Jesus said it – “In this world you will have trouble,” and that means, Mama, you can’t spare your them the difficult experiences they must face in order to grow up well. 


The essential lesson of giving space readies us as much as it does them.  They start in our wombs and separate physically as infants at birth.  We watch them learn to walk independently as toddlers, and on it goes. Our children increasingly move out into their own lives – the ones we are preparing them for as we give them room to be all God intended them to be. 

You can do this.  Just breathe through it like you breathed through labor.  It’s a second labor of sorts, birthing them into adulthood.  It hurts a bit, {Ok, who am I kidding?  It hurts like heck.}.   It’s worth the pain.  The results are bound to be glorious.

future full of promise

If you are parenting a teen, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts.  If you are not yet in this season of parenthood, take notes.  I’m hoping these next few posts will be a blessing to help you prepare for the road ahead.  Join the conversation here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page

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  • Reply
    Antoinette Campbell
    June 8, 2016 at 8:53 AM

    My oldest starts Jr High this year; he’ll be a teen in Jan. I’m actually excited. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Reply
      June 8, 2016 at 10:27 AM

      I’m excited for you, Toni! He’ll be a blessing and reflect all you have poured into him – and your sweet mothering. We all fail and fall down, but the good you have poured in will continue to come out. Thanks for coming by and letting me know you were here. 🙂

  • Reply
    Michelle Waldrip
    June 8, 2016 at 12:44 PM

    I’m looking forward to the rest of this series, Patty! Giving up control was a model that a pastor/counselor I respect shared with my 1st home church on more than one occasion. I think the model he shared had around 25% parent/75% teen control at high school age (depending on the maturity and abilities of any given individual). Exciting, but also scary! I’d love your insight, since Gavin is the same age (15 in August!). I appreciate what you have to share!

    • Reply
      June 8, 2016 at 1:03 PM

      Thanks, Michelle. I think you’ll appreciate the next few posts. I’m going to do seven in total. I just worked out the topics for each one. Some have more than one key lesson we’ve learned included. I am going to take a break in the stream of the posts the week after next to write an “open letter to teen boys” as I wrote one to girls a few weeks back and a subscriber to my blog suggested, “Why don’t you write one for boys too?” Aha! and “duh!” It makes total sense to do that … so that’s coming out on the 22nd of this month. Next week I’m going to go into the importance of good limit setting – especially when it comes to moral limits – which means I’ll be talking about screens too. I’ve got so much to say and I’m excited to share it. I always love hearing from you. Glad to be in this journey side-by-side with you.

  • Reply
    Life Lessons: Parenting Your Teen (Part 2) – Hearts Homeward
    June 15, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    […] back!  We’re in the second week of our conversation about parenting teens.  I’m sharing lessons I’m learning in my own parenting journey.  Let’s talk […]

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