A girlfriend of mine said it best—having teenagers is like having your heart living and beating outside your chest unprotected.
As you watch them grow up and tackle life, you know that they will inevitably experience heartache and disappointment. You feel every painful moment along with them as if you were still attached by an imaginary umbilical cord. Helping them through the process can be as painful for you as it is for them.
School pressures, friendships coming and going and interest in romantic relationships are just a few of the instances which can lead to disappointment. After you’ve been through them a few times in adulthood, you usually have a method you use to help you cope. But helping your kids navigate those feelings for the first time is probably one of the hardest moments in parenting that you will have to deal with. Teaching them healthy and reasonable coping mechanisms, all while your heart is breaking for them, was an unforeseen challenge of parenting teens that I wasn’t prepared for.
Friendships are going to come and go.
As your teens enter high school and leave elementary school behind, friendships will change. Inevitably they will meet new people, or grow apart in interests from friends that they used to be close with. Sometimes it’s their choice and other times it can be involuntary. Hurt feelings and disappointments most often accompany it.
I have taught my kids that it is okay to be sad and encourage them to take time to grieve the loss of the friendship. But also to accept that you have grown in different directions. Suggesting that they wish the best for the former friend, will help them to release the sad feelings and move forward.
There will always be someone doing better than you are.
Whether it’s with schoolwork or sports, as your teens meet more people and have a wider social circle, there will be always be someone that seems better off. Even as adults we get caught in the comparison game. When these feelings start to emerge, I remind my kids that, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy”.
I hope that by saying it over and over to them, by adulthood it will be always top of mind. Then when they start to scrutinize themselves against others, they will remember just to stay on their own course.
Communicating face-to-face can eradicate many hurts.
As an adult I’ve made the mistake of letting communication by email or text convey messages that were then misconstrued. Our teens almost solely communicate via social media—meeting friends on Snapchat is the new normal.
However, feelings and difficult subjects are best handled in person. We’ve had more than one misunderstanding between friends that could have been avoided if it had been tackled face to face.
What you wish for them isn’t always what they want for themselves.
A number of times, I have been at a place of conflict when I want something so badly for my daughter, only to realize that she doesn’t want that for herself.
Part of the growing process is realizing that the hopes and dreams you have for your child may differ from what they choose for themselves. After hundreds of hours playing a chosen sport, your child may decide to abandon it. The college plans you had imagined for your child may not be something they are interested in pursuing.
Sometimes the disappointment extends to you, as if it was your challenge rather than your teens. Remembering that they come through you, and you are meant to guide them, not control them, is an important lesson.
My biggest realization as my daughters have grown is that the road meanders and changes, and you have to be agile. As they change and discover new things about themselves, you have to be ready to embrace that also.
Even if it was different from what you first thought.