“This is all your fault.”
“I love you, Mom”
“Do you have the legal right to (fill in the blank)?”
“Give me a hug and let’s snuggle.”
“Why are you so rude?”
“You’re the best mom”
“I hate it here.”
“Dad is so much nicer than you.”
If I wasn’t bipolar before the divorce process, I am beginning to think it’s a possibility with the amount of mood swings happening by the teenagers in my house. Ask anyone who has been through life with a teenager, and they will undoubtedly tell you that the teen years are exhausting. Let me tell you, they are even more exhausting in the midst of divorce.
For God sake, I started my career as a high school English teacher. My personal speciality is teenages. Yet, here I am with these mangey, smelly teens that have no sense of who I am. Do they not know that my students loved me? My students thought I was funny and charming, and the “cool” teacher? I knew how to flip a rhyme or insert a witty comeback quicker than they could like that instagram selfie. Yet, here I am with my own two teens who think that I am the most uncool and annoying creature that walks this planet. Did I mention they think I’m annoying? They think that I’m annoying.
When I was in the midst of conversations about the divorce with my ex, I often tried to tell him that in all of our decisions we needed to do what would be “best for the kids.” We (really me) discussed how we were going to tell the kids about the divorce. We (really me) discussed how we would determine where they would live and how to tell them they were moving. During every conversation with my ex, I could pretty much guarantee the phrase “best interest of the kids” was going to be spoken by me. The kids. The kids. The kids. This is what I worried about the most and the topic I felt needed the most attention during the early months of our divorce. One day he told me, “You always loved the kids more than me; that was part of the problem.” I have tried to process this in so many ways. My possible responses included:
“I love the kids in spite of you.”
“They are kids, and you are an adult.”
“Aren’t they your kids too?”
But instead, I had no verbal response. The sad thing is that he did not want to dig deeper to understand why he felt that way, but rather it was easier to blame me for the jealousy he felt about my relationship with our children. Blame has been a recurring theme during most of our marriage. Blame me for convincing him to take that vacation and then regretting not having money in the bank. Blame the kids for running around when he was trying to rest. Blame himself for prior decisions that he made. Blame and regret were the twin brothers of despair which haunted my marriage for a long time. For a long time I tried to fix it for him, but I have since realized that those are things that only he can fix.
One of the most difficult things at the end of my marriage was the feeling that I was trying to raise the children by myself. At some point, I not only realized that I was parenting the children by myself, I was also parenting my ex. When I finally figured out that I was supposed to be his wife and NOT his mother, I stopped being his mother. I changed the only thing that I could change: myself. I asked him to leave and when he refused, I took my kids and left. I took my teenagers. My highly intelligent son and my emotionally charged daughter, and I walked out the door and left. And those very same teens, who now question my authority, talk back with sass, and generally live either as my best friend or my worst nightmare in any given minute—came with me. Even though they could not even begin to process what had happened, they trusted me and came with me. Now I need to go with them on the journey they are facing as teens.
So, I have tried to come up with some strategies to help me navigate raising teenagers in the midst of a challenging time.
Be Available. There is a book I read recently called The Available Parent. We live in a time of distraction. Devices, messages, selfies…oh Lord, the selfies. When one of my kids wants to talk to me, I have to tell myself to stop what I am doing, look at him/her and really listen. I have to be available when they need me. I have found that when I am available for them, they have been available for me when I needed them. When it comes to teenagers, they just need to know that you will be there for them when they need you. So I make myself go and sit by them, even when I have a ton of other “stuff” I could be doing. I have to remind myself to stop, slow down, and appreciate the moments I can to just be there physically with my kids. They will go off to college, live their lives and while they will one day come back to visit, there won’t always be days that I can go and sit on their bed and just be with them.
Take what you can get. Sometimes they will let me snuggle. Sometimes they won’t. I have to take all the snuggles I can get when they are willing to give them. It is the same with smiles, laughs, hugs, and kisses. These don’t come as easy now that my kids are older. They still come, and when they do, I try to embrace them and hope they last just a little bit longer.
Don’t judge. Teens really do want the approval of their parents, but not at the cost of feeling judged. I really like people who don’t judge me and accept me for who I am. My kids are the same way. When they tell me how they handled something, I try to be thankful that they are sharing their feelings with me. When I see them make a social mistake, I fight myself to keep my mouth shut. I don’t need to judge their social misgivings, their peers are way more harsh on them on a daily basis. They need to feel that when they talk to me they are safe. It is a place free from the litany of insults, teen drama and discomfort of not knowing who you are or who you will be. The need for likes should end when they walk in the door.
Don’t break them. When my kids were babies, I was gentle with them. I held them closely, cradled their necks so their heads wouldn’t pop off, and softly placed them in their cribs to ensure they would not wake from their precious rest. Being gentle wasn’t necessary, it was mandatory! Our teens aren’t much different than babies expect, at times, they make you want to break their neck or wake them up because it is 1:00 in the afternoon and they have been sleeping all day. When they were babies, I made sure I was gentle so I didn’t break this tiny, precious cargo. As teenagers they are just as precious, expect the damage we do isn’t as obvious. We must nurture them, even when they refuse to be nurtured. When they do something stupid, as they will, we must be sure to mix the right amount of reality with the belief that they will overcome their mistakes. But most of all, I don’t want to break their spirits. Both of my teens have a strong sense of their own ideas. At times, their strength can be overshadowed by my strength to see things done “my way.” It is good for them to own their attitudes, behavior, and actions. To make them feel emotionally incapacitated is breaking them beyond repair.
I am so thankful that I have this opportunity to raise my teens. I try everyday to make the best decisions as a single mom and am slowly learning how to help them develop into their own individual people. While raising them alone was not my first choice, raising them the best I can is my choice and one I embrace everyday.