True Confessions of the Mom of an Adolescent

“An adolescent and their parents are simply experiencing two kinds of helplessness: Helplessness born of experience and the helplessness born of lack of experience” ~ Phillips

In our home, adolescence came out of nowhere.  It seemed one day my son was a child, and – poof! – the next day he woke up a teen. 

No turning back.  

parenting an adolescent is like a roller coaster ride

photo courtesy of priscilla du preez

Our first real emotional roller coaster with our adolescent son took my breath away.  Afterward, I had the urge to go up to every mom of a teenager and give a big hug or a Starbucks card for her heroic feat of enduring this stage of motherhood.  I felt like I had been initiated into a club I didn’t remember choosing to join.  

Maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about.  You might have one of those rare teens who has remained relatively steady and experiences few of the highs and lows so typical to this age. 

Most of us, however, are enduring life with a teen who wrestles with angst as they exit childhood and awkwardly aim towards adulthood.  Camaraderie, sister.  You and I already lived through our own teen years.  Now we get to survive someone else’s.

photo courtesy of brooke cagle

I used to say you couldn’t pay me $1,000,000 to return to 13 years old.  Guess what?  No one paid me and I went back anyway.  This time my voyage into adolescence is on someone else’s ticket.  Daily I watch my heart walk around outside my body – as he goes about making choices that impact the rest of his life. 

I’ll get the caveat out of the way from the start.  I adore my teen son.  This post isn’t about bashing him.  I’ve got his full “okay” to share what it’s been like walking with him through challenges.  

Confession #1 – Sometimes I fear the future

As a mom of a teen, it’s easy to look down the road on a hard day and wonder what future pitfalls and perils my teen will face.  Since my rope is tied to the end of his wagon, I may end up dragged along a bit and that prospect can unsettle me (a lot).

We’ve had friends who raised their children knowing God, with love and support and all the provisions we would think are needed to ensure a good outcome in their child’s heart and life.  Sometimes these children have gotten caught up in drugs and premarital sex despite their good upbringing.  As moms of teens, the potential dangers and influences in our children’s lives can cause us to lose sleep and to spend our waking hours preoccupied with their lives.    

photo courtesy of brendan church

Confession #2 – I thought I could direct his path

My husband and I regularly return to counseling throughout our marriage.  It’s a little tune up that helps keep the engine in our relationship running smoothly.   One of the first things our counselor told me as we entered the teen years was, “How your son behaves and what he chooses is not your fault.”    

I realized I had been keeping a secret from myself.  I thought it was up to me.  My plan was to help him succeed.  I believed I could keep him from falling down holes and slipping into darkness.  My hopes, at least in part, were to direct the trajectory of his life – and more importantly, his heart.

Great freedom comes from surrender.  Along with it comes the realization of our true helplessness.   As a go-getter woman in a culture that preaches “Just Do It,” I’m often at odds with my own weakness.  I want more influence than I have.  If I’m really honest, I want more than influence.  I want control.  Nothing says “you have no control,” like rearing an adolescent!

Confession #3 – I want him to look good

While many of my son’s decisions give me joy, I regularly observe the myriad of temptations set before him.  I experience, first hand, his emotions as they ebb and flow without warning.  I know the inner challenge he faces trying to define himself in the midst of a culture hostile to Jesus and consumed with materialism, image, and self-indulgence.

Someone once said to me, “there ought to be more posts about parenting an adolescent.”  Well, maybe people don’t write about this stage because they don’t want to embarrass their teen {news flash: your very presence can cause mortification on the wrong day}. 

I have been overcoming this other fear – you may have it too – the fear of being judged for my son’s choices or behavior.  The unfinished parts of our teen’s hearts can come out in ugly ways.  Parenting an adolescent is a  surprisingly vulnerable stage of motherhood.  My skin has grown pretty thick over the years.  I can be uncharacteristically thin-skinned when it comes to my teen son.  

photo courtesy of drew hays

What’s a Mom to Do?

I decided I want you to know.  Some of you are parenting teens.  Others have been there done that {oh, bravo!}.  For some of you, this stage is years away.  Wherever you are on this journey of motherhood, I want to share some truths to help you as you navigate this unpredictable, wild ride:

Instead of fearing the future, get a life now 

That would be your own life, separate from theirs.  Cultivate your friendships, hobbies and calling apart from being their mom.  As you do you will be less wound up in their life and more filled to be available as a support to them. 

Instead of taking the blame, let yourself off the hook 

You didn’t cause their struggle, you can’t cure their emotions and, take it from me, you can’t control their choices.  Releasing guilt helps you detach and become more neutral as you parent your adolescent.  

Instead of fearing others’ opinions, look to God for your value 

Truthfully, most moms will relate to your struggles more often than they will condemn you.  God knows what you are facing.  He hasn’t left you and He promises to give you what you need to endure this season of motherhood.  That includes His unfailing love and validation.  

Good News:

I’ve got a treat for you coming in early 2018 … I’m putting together an eBook called “The 7 Cs of Parenting Your Teen Through Their Chaos and Crisis”.  It’s full of practical tips for not only surviving this stage of motherhood but thriving through it.   

If you want to get the latest parenting posts in your inbox as well as a discount offer when the ebook releases, subscribe to Hearts Homeward.  I pinky promise not to spam your inbox with meaningless clutter.

If you want to learn more about my availability to come speak to your group, you can hear a clip of me speaking or feel free to visit my page at Christian Women Speakers 

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  • Reply
    December 19, 2017 at 10:05 AM

    What a great post! My son is 16. I can tell you that I have had every one of the struggles. Daily laying him and his future at the foot of the Cross is such freedom. Thank you so much!

    • Reply
      December 19, 2017 at 11:19 AM

      Thank you, Stacey! We’re not alone … though it can feel that way, can’t it! My son is 16 as well. I’m grateful you shared here. I’ll hope to have my ebook out by February. Check back to hear about that. I’m putting encouragement and practical tips together to bless moms like us.

  • Reply
    Dawn Benson Jones
    December 20, 2017 at 6:46 PM

    I am a mom who has lived through this season with one child but still has three more to go. I have to tell you that it is still a struggle when they enter adulthood (and are a really great adult). I think it’s because we realize that the older they are, the bigger the consequences will be if they make a wrong turn along the way. I love the suggestions and observations you have included. They are spot on!

    • Reply
      December 20, 2017 at 7:14 PM

      Thank you, Dawn. I’m a fan of yours! I so appreciate you chiming in. So many of my friends who have older children tell me the same thing. It’s hard to imagine from my phase of motherhood – though I surely get it – that it could be even more painful later. We just keep laboring these children into the world – the pain of mothering them even when they leave us and go to live their lives beyond our homes. They never live beyond our hearts.

  • Reply
    Cori - Leigh
    December 22, 2017 at 12:01 AM

    Patty I love this post! Every parent needs to read this! Makes me think of when my two daughters were adolescents. I have one who is now 35 and the youngest is 22. I remember that stage though! I resonated with this entire post and loved your writing style.

    When you suggest “Instead of fearing the future get a life now” I think this is definitely important. Our children grow up. They find their wings. We do need to have a life separate from theirs. So much healthier all around!

    • Reply
      December 22, 2017 at 7:21 AM

      Cori-Leigh! Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I have many friends who have children in their 20s and 30s. I hear the wisdom you shared here echo from them. They all say the same thing I say to moms whose toddler regularly throws tantrums or whose four-year-old won’t eat their veggies. I say, “Hang in. This stage passes.” Of course, there are things we can do to help ourselves and our children along the way, but in every stage, we need to keep an eye on the horizon. We do that while finding something to delight in while we are in each phase of motherhood. Otherwise, we miss the moments we need to savor. You made my day with your comment and encouragement. Bless you, Cori-Leigh.

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