Raising teens presents enough challenges just helping them adjust to the myriad changes they face. As a parent of many children, and having as many as four straddling the teen years at the same time, I learned early on to not ride every roller coaster ride that they invite me on. The emotional swings, highs and lows, twists and turns, and dramatic mood changes, all in a single day, would put the finest amusement park roller coaster to task.
I recall how this lesson played out in our home with our oldest daughter several years ago, and recently having the opportunity to reapply this lesson with my now 17-year-old!
My oldest daughter was a prima donna ballerina. A teen in the ballet world alone invites its own drama and mood swings. On this night, after auditioning for the upcoming Nutcracker production, my daughter came home with high hopes of landing a certain role. The phone call came in. It was her ballet instructor. I could hear the disappointment in her voice. My heart sank. I felt punched in the stomach for her. I quickly strategized how I would encourage my blossoming ballerina daughter, who would be devastated. However, not even minutes later, I heard her voice, now an octave higher: “What? Are you kidding me? For Real? For sure?” Trying to figure out what could have been said that changed her mood so quickly, I could no longer resist the temptation (as I had been pretending not to listen)—I run to her bedroom. She had been given a more elevated dance position. Her tears of disappointment quickly transformed to tears of joy. We danced and celebrated together.
That incident illustrates several lessons that have come home to me:
- We as parents don’t have to ride every emotional roller coaster that we are invited to.
- Lack of planning on our teen’s part does not have to translate into a crisis on our part.
- Emotional boundaries with our teen are essential for their relational development and maturity.
- Natural and logical consequences are often much more effective “life-lesson” teachers than our lectures or attempts at rescue.
- Offering unconditional love through the hard times, rather than an “I told you so” attitude, will build a stronger relationship and may open doors for your teen to share more openly with you.
- Recognizing the “buttons” that your teen loves to push is key to learning when not to give them the reaction they want!
- Stand your ground! It takes practice and confidence. It’s like exercising new muscles…not always easy, but so key. When we hold our ground, and our teen learns they won’t get the reaction they want, the “button pushing” may stop! (But be aware that he may attempt a different ruse!)
My husband and I have discovered that life with foster/adoptive teens is like the Texas Giant at Six Flags…on steroids! They often present scenarios of greater intensity, and which may result in more significant consequences.
So how did this play out in our home last week with our 17-year-old, who I think studies me late at night just to know how to tug at my heart strings, and to push my buttons?
The phone call comes in at 9:05 a.m. as I’m driving to Bible study.
“Mom, please come get me. I need to ‘process’ with you.” (Yes, he knows I’m a life coach and big on “processing the feelings!”)
“OK, what’s wrong?”, I ask inquisitively.
“My girlfriend broke up with me. It’s over. She’s done. I can’t be here at school.”
My mother’s heart strings are tugged. It’s rare that he makes this kind of request of me. I contemplate whether I should go to Bible study, or to “show Christ’s love”, to my son. After a quick prayer for wisdom, I recognize this as an emotional pull, a manipulative attempt to get out of his class, as well as a chance for him to see his new puppy.
I offer my sympathy and kindness but tell him he needs to stay in school. I would check on him at lunch.
I tried my best to cut the “mommy guilt”, and know that I made the right decision to not ride this emotional roller coaster that I’ve been on with him no less than 101 times before.
As promised, I checked on him at lunch. The girlfriend had already called to apologize and wanted to have him back. He was good. In fact, so good, he basically ignored my husband and me the rest of the day!
How different my day would have been had I climbed on the emotional roller coaster my teen invited me on. Sometimes just letting our teens “work things out for themselves” is the best teacher.