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When Parenting a Teen, I Was Prepared for Rebellion; I Was Completely Unprepared for Grief

parenting a teen, prepared for the rebellion, completely unprepared for the grief
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

When parenting a teen, I was prepared for rebellion, conflict and conversations about deep topics that we didn’t always agree on–but not grief.

In fact, I was completely unprepared for the grief.

When your teen gets to the stage of insisting that they can make their own decisions, I think that some parents believe it’s time to let go completely, and let them learn from their experience. 

Parents may do this because they feel powerless or hopeless about their ability to have influence if their child is rebelling. It’s hard! 😔

They may feel frustrated and exasperated with a teen who constantly argues with everything they say. 😫

Maybe there’s even an occasional thought of, “Okay, do it your way! And one day you’ll see that I was right all along!” 😠

Or they may feel exhausted and depleted from putting energy into loving a kid who so seldom reciprocates that love (at least at an observable level). 😩

But at a deeper level, the temptation to prematurely let go completely and let them figure it out for themselves often stems from an inability, albeit subconscious, to tolerate the angst and deep grief of feeling your child step onto a path that you have less control over. 

“Will they be okay?” “Have I taught them enough to stay safe?” 😭

This was one of my big “aha” moments when my son was 15.

It’s a time where there’s less “guarantee” that you can keep your precious teen safe and *ensure* they’ll be okay. A time where, if you’re honest with yourself, you have to look deep inside yourself and tether yourself to your deepest roots (or establish them if you haven’t already), so that you can tolerate that fear and anxiety, and also so you can hold steady through the storms and keep holding space for your teen. 

The place where you can honestly say, during the storm, “Bring it on. My shoulders are big enough to hold that. I’m still here for you and I always will be.”  

Or, “Tell me honestly how you feel. I can take it.” 

Staying connected to enough to my teen to hold *all* of him has meant feeling both the joy and grief of navigating new terrain with more separation and independence for him.

So the parenting challenges are: (1) gaining the skills to stay connected, and (2) allowing myself to feel the emotions, including grief, and finding my own support.

How about you? Does any of this resonate?

(This is edited from a journal entry, July 22, 2019, when my son was 15 1/2yo. I discovered it in some old writings the other day and it reminded me of how painful parenting a 15yo was at times.)