Parenting teenagers is like a delicate dance that requires a great deal of strength, fineness, passion, and humility. We often ask ourselves, “Am I being the best parent I can be?” Early in my career, a professor from a parenting course said, “Every parent is trying to be the best parent they can be.” I never forgot that! What did he mean? I found myself thinking things like, “Is every parent really the best parent he or she can be?” and “What about parents who abuse or neglect their children?” But, the professor went on to explain himself. He said, “A person’s parenting comes from two sources: how they were parented, and what they learned about parenting after they left their home.” After they leave the home, parents learn from things like attending parenting classes, reading books, participating in parenting support groups, and having coffee with other parents who share the common goal of raising children. Each of these is largely led by our own desire to seek out new information and gain support from others who share in our experiences.
But, parenting is not that clear cut. The relationship you have with your teen is also influenced by what your teen brings to the relationship. Teens introduce their own unique personalities and developing perspectives. Over time, they grow to become the person they are through the people with whom they spend their time, the neighborhood in which they live, the schooling available in their community, and the social and political climate of their times. Ultimately, the parent-child relationship becomes its own entity, one that encapsulates all the knowledge, experience, and perspectives that both the parent and the teen bring to the relationship.
As teenagers develop their own independence and differentiate from their parents, they are faced with the fact that they still carry with them the voice of their parents. Herein lies the conflict. Teens hear this voice, and may even agree with the voice. Still, they want to express their own unique self. For this reason, teens will sometimes do things that completely contradict their parents, or even themselves. Experts say that by the time they reach adulthood, most teens accept the voice of their parents as part of their own. They are better able to recognize and appreciate parts of them that came from their parents, while also acknowledging and integrating their own knowledge. beliefs, and experiences. This path can be long and mucky for everyone involved as each person tries to recognize and appreciate all three entities: the parent, the child, and the parent-child relationship.
Parenting is no easy task. It is a life long journey, and one that pushes our thinking and pulls at our heart strings. Below are some ways to enhance the parent-child relationship:
- Do some soul searching. Where do your parenting practices come from? What parenting styles are you most drawn to?
- Read up on parenting practices, especially if you want to parent in ways that are different than your upbringing.
- Find other parents that you can talk to, show support, and gain support from during this important time. This can give you new ideas, while also normalizing your experiences.
- Share appropriate readings with your teen. This can put them at ease if they see you reading lots of parenting books.
- Let your teen organize some activities to do together. This allows you to share in your teen’s expressions of self.
- Set the boundaries, rules and expectations, but allow for individual expression within those boundaries. Sometimes the more we completely discourage something, the more teens want to do the very thing we are discouraging.
- Embrace the ways in which your teen is different than you.
- Understand that the parent-child relationship is ever-changing as both you and your teen learn and grow.