Parenting Parenting Teens

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

Adolescence 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 mud puddles.  Even in the elementary school years, when he seemed to be growing like a weed and no longer resembled the baby he once was, I never dreamed the reality of raising teenagers would hit like it did. 

Once you enter this stage, 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

This stage of parenthood can strike fear in our hearts.  We remember our own teen years: the edginess, confusion and poor choice making.   A feeling of being misunderstood sometimes dominated our relationship with our parents.  We want to avoid this with our own teenagers. 

How can we do it differently?

GIVE THEM SOME ELBOW ROOM

Letting go is the hardest thing to do as we parent teenagers. 

Over the years my mentor’s mantra with regards to my oldest son has been, “Give him some psychic space.”  By that, she doesn’t mean to let him be a psychic {um, no}.  She is talking “psyche,” meaning soul.  As children enter the teen years, they need to be allowed to think their own thoughts, feel their own feelings, make choices of their own, and differ from us. 

All well and good until I see him veering.  Then I freak.  You know.  The anxiety over what could happen flares up and I rush to put up barricades and force him to see from my perspective.   Can you relate? 

Fear moves me from an empowering parenting style to micromanaging in a nanosecond.  Ugly stuff.  Not only is this controlling something I’d rather not admit, it actually undermines my ultimate goal.  Increased attempts to control can spur teenagers into more rebellion.  A little wiggle room helps them feel they don’t have to buck against us so hard.  

How do we set limits while still allowing them extra freedom? 

open space

ENOUGH ROPE TO HANG THEMSELVES

I think there are three key things we can do to facilitate the hard and profitable process of letting go.  The first is to give them enough rope to hang themselves. 

While we continue to guide our teen towards what we think is right, we leave much of the choosing up to them.  Bad choices still wind up poorly.  Crossing our solid boundaries never ends in a blessing.  We learn that we can’t “make” teenagers do what we want, but we can dole out consequences (or allow the natural results they have brought on themselves).   Consequences make the best teachers.  

LETTING GO OF OUTCOMES

The second key is to learn to release the outcomes of their lives and choices.  This is excruciating and it isn’t optional. 

It is normal to have thoughts like, “My child will be okay if …” We imagine formulas for the path they need to follow and the things they need to avoid.  We convince ourselves this will lead to our desired outcome.  

The thing is, our teenagers didn’t get the memo.  They might not buy into the outcome we want.  Even if they do want something similar to what we envision, they may go about it a totally different way. 

I’m going to tell you something really hard here, but it is going to be life-changing for you and your teen.  You can not put your hope in how your teen will go through or emerge from the adolescent years.  

Almost every parent wants to ensure our teenagers will walk the straight and narrow and agree with all we have instilled over the years.  We aspire for our teens to go to college, obtain satisfying jobs with decent salaries, get married to wonderful people (and remain sexually pure until then), never dabble in drugs, or worse become addicted.     

The truth is far more of us will have disappointments in one or more of those categories than not.  If our hope is in avoiding these pitfalls, we are setting ourselves and our teens up for conflict and disappointment.  

WHAT HOPE IS THERE?

Shouldn’t we aim for all of the above?  Yes.  We should!  The trouble comes when we hang our hat on whether our teen achieves all those dream results.  

  • Putting our hope on outcomes puts too much pressure on our teen
  • Outcomes are not guaranteed
  • Our hope isn’t meant to be in earthly outcomes.  We hope in God.  He is with us regardless of the outcomes.

The good news is when you take your hope off the outcomes of your teen’s life, they feel the giant “whew” of that pressure being released.  It’s hard enough for them to feel the stress of growing up without the added tension of your attachment to their outcomes. 

You will not be disappointed when you put your hope in God instead of the results of your teen’s life.  God’s got this.  It’s easy to forget that truth in the throes of parenting. 

The seeds we planted will flourish better when given some air and sunshine rather than digging them up for repeated inspection and replanting.  Entrust the outcomes to God.  Put your hope in Him, not your teen. 

 

Seedlings

PROVIDE A SAFETY NET

The third key to letting go well is to provide a safety net. 

Don’t you want your teen to learn hard lessons while still under your support and guidance?  The blessing comes through your presence.  When your teen blows it big time, after the results of their failure have sunken in, you can be in their corner encouraging them and giving them input when their heart is soft.  We aren’t here to say “I told you so” or belittle their poor choices.  We are here to help them dust off and to set their eyes in a proper direction to the extent that they will allow us.

A SECOND LABOR

The essential and difficult lesson of letting go 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.}.   The pain will be worth it.  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 my posts on parenting teens will be a blessing to help you prepare for the road ahead.  If you want to get my monthly letter chock-a-block full of goodness and be on the list to receive my parenting teens ebook for free when it comes out, simply subscribe to Hearts Homeward.  

this post was originally written in June 2016 – revised in Jan 2018 to bless more moms like you. 

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15 Comments

  • 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
      Patty
      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
      Patty
      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 […]

  • Reply
    Sarah Geringer
    January 13, 2018 at 5:30 AM

    Love this post, Patty. I especially like this quote:

    “The seeds we planted will flourish better when given some air and sunshine rather than digging them up for repeated inspection and replanting. Entrust the outcomes to God. Put your hope in Him, not your teen.”

    Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Reply
      Patty
      January 13, 2018 at 7:48 AM

      Sarah, Thank you so much! I’m so glad what I wrote blessed you. Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart – even the best of teens are going through a lot and we go through it with them. Come back anytime. I’m here to encourage and inspire you as you mother.

  • Reply
    Lila Diller
    January 14, 2018 at 4:35 PM

    Thank you for this! So precious, so honest, and so encouraging! My oldest is in middle school this year, and it’s a scary time. Just wonderful!

    • Reply
      Patty
      January 14, 2018 at 8:36 PM

      Lila, it is a scary time! I hear you. We know God holds it all. He has a plan and will walk us through this season. One thing I can say for sure is that God has used the ups and downs of this season of motherhood to draw out good in me and to strengthen our marriage. It’s been hard at times. The fruit is sweet. God always does good things for us through hard times. Of course this season of motherhood has much good in it as well. We need to cherish those moments – as Mary treasured things in her heart. I’m so grateful you were blessed and encouraged. You are welcome to Hearts Homeward anytime.

  • Reply
    Jenn Gigowski
    January 17, 2018 at 3:29 PM

    Wow, thanks! This was such a blessing to find tonight. Tomorrow, my oldest baby will be 14. Just saying it is crazy to me…He’s such a good, helpful, amazing son, but I’m always wary about what’s around the corner with him…Thanks for putting things into perspective for me! 🙂 I’ll be sharing on my FB page. 🙂 God bless!

    • Reply
      Patty
      January 18, 2018 at 12:14 PM

      Jenn, I’m so glad this blessed you. I have an opt-in gift for subscribers which is my dos/don’ts for teen moms. I’m going to just send it to you anyway – even if you don’t subscribe to HeartsHomeward. I just want to bless you. Another post I wrote on teen parenting was “True Confessions of the Mom of an Adolescent.” You may want to read that sometime as well. You are welcome back here anytime.

  • Reply
    Nena
    January 21, 2018 at 6:09 PM

    I know, Patty. I always ask myself, where did the time go? They grow so fast. I have teens, too. My heart and mind are always in battle whenever I need to make a major decision regarding their future. Or even in little things like internet use and social media. Should I respect their privacy or should I snoop on them? Should I let a “situation” pass or should I let them learn the hard way? I want to teach them everything (“formulas”, right?) because I want to prepare them in life but I also want them to discover their own strengths and weaknesses so they can be more independent. Parenting teens is a tough job. But I love them to death. Your post is wonderful, can’t wait to have my friends read this.

    • Reply
      Patty
      January 21, 2018 at 8:33 PM

      Nena, Thank you so much! I can so relate to the tug-of-war in your heart. When are we overstepping and when are we keeping them from something detrimental? One thing I know is we are doing our level best and they are at an age where they have to start to take the reins and learn to choose well. I have a few other posts specifically focusing on rearing teens. You might appreciate True Confessions of the Mom of an Adolescent. I’m writing an ebook about rearing teens and hope to have it finished this spring. If you subscribe to Hearts Homeward, I will let you know when it’s out (no pressure to subscribe, just letting you know about that opportunity). I am going to send you my “Dos and Don’ts for Rearing Teens” Bookmark. I usually send it to subscribers only, but I want you to have it whether you subscribe or not. Bless you as you mother your teens.

      • Reply
        Nena
        January 26, 2018 at 7:00 AM

        Hi Patty. I went on and read True Confessions… So spot-on. Bull’s eye to the heart of a teen’s mom. Will definitely check out your ebook when it comes out. Good luck!

        • Reply
          Patty
          January 26, 2018 at 9:13 AM

          Thank you, Nena. It’s something we all need to remember. Hard as nails to learn these things, but they do bless everyone as we do. I think of rearing teens in many ways, but one is like walking a tightrope. We need to keep the balance between involvement and letting go and it can feel precarious at times. Thank you for your kind words. I’ll keep you posted when the book is available 🙂

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