The Traumatic Teen Years

Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This

When your teen is out for the evening, there is nothing wrong with expecting to be told where he is going and when he is coming home. There are viable consequences for breaking the rules that will still be effective to a teenager. Even in prisons they use taking away television privileges to keep inmates in line. It actually works because of the importance television plays in the prisoner's life. Try unplugging the tube or taking away the Nintendo. It still works. Be consistent and be firm. Just avoid overemotionalism. Once you scream, you lose.

Discovering Your Teenager's Persona

The teenage years are seen as something you need to get past, but actually they can be the most wonderful of all the stages you will go through with your child. You can still do some direct mothering (have a chance to be a mother) before you need to change your child's status into being one of the adults. Teenagers can be a lot of fun to hang out with. I enjoy my daughter's company as much as or more than that of many of my adult friends. We share many common interests and love being together. We agree to disagree about certain things: I refused to see the remake of Psycho, but I conceded to watching the Beavis and Butthead marathon.

The strange thing about being the mother of a teenager is realizing how much teens really understand about life. My daughter gives very good advice. I try not to ask her questions in an obvious “I don't know the answer” sort of way. I do not want her to be under the pressure of thinking she is the mom, but I have learned to listen to what she has to say. I must admit my ego had difficulty accepting how much she has grown and how her opinions are being formed, entirely separate from anything I have told her.

The nice thing is that I sometimes catch her saying something I know I did say to her at some point in her life. I never realized how much she had been listening to me all those years.

When a child is a teenager a mother needs to create a new relationship. In some ways you need to give your child the room to choose how much interaction he wants from you. It is much more effective for you to let your child know you are available and to wait to be asked for your help, than for you to be too quick to supply all of the answers.

Give Your Teenager the Space to Set the Pace

This is a perfect time for us moms to pursue interests of our own. If you are a working mom this should not be a problem. But if you have been a stay-at-home mom, I might as well be telling you that you are being fired from the only job you have ever known. You can't look at it this way. This is just a time in your motherhood career path to learn some new skills so that you can adapt to the changing times ahead.

You may want to pursue a hobby or renew your education. You may want to continue to be devoted to your child's activities, but perhaps you can give yourself more permission to do some things you enjoy for yourself. This is a vulnerable time for your female identity. You have to fight the urge to feel confused and negative. This time of your life can be wonderful and full of growth.

If you have younger children in the house you will be kept busy for years to come as you guide them down the path to adulthood. You may find that having younger children and a teenager in the same domain creates a type of disequilibrium. The two age groups will inevitably try to torture each other and will want you to be the referee. After certain ages it is difficult to travel with children who are at different personality stages.

There is a lot to be said about finding a place where no one can get to you. Bathrooms are nice but taking some time to get away from kids altogether is even nicer. Perhaps more important now than at any other time, you want to create space for yourself that reunites you with who you are. Your children may demand less of your time but they will still demand as much attention as possible. You can control what is comfortable for you if you keep in mind that children do not need to have their lives run for them to your own detriment. You are not doing them any good by being everything to everyone.

As your child reaches various stages of independence, try to encourage individual interests and cultivate a few of your own. Try not to define yourself through the eyes of your family members, or you will become a shadow of a human being. You may need to go through a period of redefinition, but it is part of your growth. Raising children does not mean your development as a human being stops. You have been in a stage, just as your children have. It is now time for you to move beyond your definition as mother into person who happens to be a mother. Although this is who you have been all along, it is easier at this stage to see that you have never really been lost, you have just been otherwise occupied.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood © 1999 by Deborah Levine Herman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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