Sometimes I look at my older teens (17 and 19), and I’m not quite sure how we made it. When they were 13 and 15 things weren’t good. I navigated through unknown waters without a clue of what to do. I often felt like I was at the end of my rope; like nothing I was doing was working. Consequences, punishment, long talks, and my tears weren’t getting through to them.
My oldest was fighting at school. His grades were slipping fast. He always seemed angry and like he wanted to see how far he could push me. After he was suspended from school (again), I took his phone away and he punched a hole in the wall. I made him pay for the repairs and that made him even angrier.
Dealing with my teen’s behavioral issues was draining and devastating
I was drained. I cried a lot. I talked to him about his behavior until my throat was sore. I signed him up for therapy. I watched him like a hawk. I gave up a lot of things that made me happy because there was a part of me that felt guilty for enjoying parts of my life when my son was so lost and being so destructive.
I lost sleep. I tried harder. I spent as much time with him as I could. I was frustrated. I was embarrassed. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone what was really going on because I didn’t want them to think I had a “bad” kid.
It was one of the most lonely times I’ve been through, and I know it was a lonely time for my son, too.
My daughter struggled and started cutting
My second child went through something a bit different, but it was just as horrible. Her anxiety and depression spiked. She began cutting herself as a way to cope. We tried therapy, and she hated it. I was afraid to leave her alone, and I constantly went through her room, backpack, and bathroom to ensure all sharp objects were removed. She struggled with friends and became isolated. I encouraged her. I spent extra time with her. The sleepless nights and tears continued.
Now we’ve come to the other side, and both my kids are thriving and doing well. I have a friend going through all this now in her teens, and she doesn’t know what to do. While I am not an expert, I am a mom who has gone through this. I can tell you two things worked and kept me semi-okay through these excruciating times.
Two things that kept me sane while my teens’ struggled
1. Love your teenager hard
I know it doesn’t feel easy to do at times, but this is what they need from you the most. My teenagers needed guidance, but I didn’t need to jump in and figure it out for them. It didn’t matter what I thought the solution was; they had to figure things out independently. And through their self-discovery, they needed to know I loved them unconditionally and that I wasn’t going to give up on them.
I stopped giving them the silent treatment when I was upset (a horrible habit I learned from childhood). Instead, I told them when I needed time to think about things. Yes, some consequences fit the actions, but punishment beyond that didn’t seem to help. Instead, it made things worse.
I checked on them a lot, even when they got annoyed at me or told me to stop. I reminded them every single day how capable, loved and lovable they were. I also realized I couldn’t handle this alone, so therapy, getting in touch with the school counselor, and asking an adult I trusted to talk with them, were all worth their weight in gold.
2. “Love yourself hard,” I just told my friend who is struggling with her teen
“I needed to hear that,” was her response. I said this to her because I remember I gave up a lot of my passions, hobbies, and time with loved ones because there was a part of me that felt so guilty. Who was I to be enjoying parts of my life while my children seemed to be getting lost?
I skipped exercise classes; I stopped doing crafts, an activity that soothed my soul. I canceled plans with friends even when my kids were busy doing something else because I felt like I should spend that time thinking of a solution or figuring out their behavior.
Yes, you have to adjust when your kids need you more, but I realized I’d given up so much because I was letting their behavior consume me. This only made me angry and resentful, and all it did was make me feel worse. And guess who I took it out on? My kids who were already struggling.
Do things that nourish your soul as well
I know there are days when your troubled teens make it impossible to concentrate on anything, and all you want to do is stare at the ceiling. I’m not suggesting that life go on as usual, or that you stay in denial. But, there is a tremendous benefit to doing a little something that makes you feel better: a talk with a friend. A walk. A manicure.
You need to invest in yourself, so you can be the best possible version of yourself to support your child. Nothing is wrong with doing something you enjoy or escaping for a bit so you can reset and face things with a fresh mind.
From one mother of teenagers to another: Whatever you are going through, know that it will get better, and give yourself permission to take care of you while you are taking care of your teens.
The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.
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