Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Two Secrets to Surviving Teen Drama

Teenage girls are dramatic. It’s good and bad. 

I’m either the worst mom ever, or the best, depending on the week, the day, the moment. 

I’m working on raising my third of these strange creatures, so I know one thing for sure: we will have drama.

I’ve learned two things that help, though. Here are the coveted secrets of surviving the teenage years:

No. 1. Pray for your child more than ever before.

Here’s what I usually pray for my nearly grown-up kiddos: God, please draw my daughters to you. Pull their hearts in your direction so that they know you’re there, and that you love them even more than I do. Help them to rely on you.

I pray that a lot. I tell my girls I’m praying for them. Then I watch my girls grow and I do the second thing:

No. 2. Listening is more important than ever.

You should always listen to your child, whatever the age. Even when they start saying really dumb things and they’re old enough that you think they should know better (they don’t by the way), listening without telling them what’s what is excruciating. But you have to do it. No well-meaning lectures, or sound advice giving, just good listening. I’ve made the mistake once too often of hearing only the screaming or crying and telling my girls to "calm down". Wrong answer.

Instead, I’ve learned to hone in on what feelings are being expressed. Is it heartbreak? Anger? Righteous indignation? Sadness? Never mind the relatively large scale of these emotions in comparison to their relatively small causes—that’s just teenage hormones and brain development. We were all there. Once you think you’ve identified the feeling, hear it. Empathize. Say things that indicate you understand your child: “I’m sorry." "That sounds hard." "That’s upsetting." "You sound really mad." "I’m glad you told me.”

Then, you have to do something that feels counterintuitive for all the parenting you’ve done  to get you to this place, you have to encourage your child to deal with her problems.

“What are you going to do?” is a good thing to ask. “Is there something I can do to help?” Usually, that’s about food, laundry, or a late night run to get homework project supplies. The emotions feel big because the teens still feel small. My two older girls defaulted on wanting to be nurtured in these moments. So I nurtured. It feels awkward, doing things for your adolescents when you’ve spent a decade or more teaching them how to clean up after themselves, get their homework done, make their lunch, etc. They want to grow up, but sometimes they also want their mommy.

Being a praying, and listening mom, especially to your awkward and emotional teenager, is the best you can do to fill her with confidence. 

She’ll know from your assurance that her feelings are real, that they matter, and that she is growing up and must deal with them herself.

The best news is that despite the drama, this girl came to you with her heart. Even if she blames you for whatever problem she’s having. Just calmly respond that blaming you won’t help, unless of course, it is your fault, then you should apologize. The fact is, she let you hold her heart in your hands for a moment again like you did when she was young. Hold it carefully. Remain calm, at least on the exterior because you can deal with your own emotion later. And maybe you can really help her.

Sometimes in the middle of all that drama, teen girls forget how much you want to protect and love them. They for sure forget how great they are. So, these are also good times to remind them that they are strong, smart, caring, and loving, and you’re sure they will solve their problem in the best way they can. They can fix their mistakes, they can soothe their broken hearts, they can be responsible and do the right thing with integrity. And you’ve got their back.

Rebecca Barnes is married to an amazing man, who encourages her faith and listens to her typing a lot. She has three daughters and a son-in-law. She loves to cook for anyone who likes good food, and she feels competitive about weeding her flower garden. She lives in Old Town Lafayette because it’s a little eclectic, like her.

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