I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
March 5, 2019
I got married when my stepdaughters were 10 and 12 years old. Two years later, they were living with us full-time and I was pregnant. What followed was a whirlwind of acne and diapers, boyfriends and baby bottles, angst and alphabet songs. It was a hot mess of a time and a true trial by fire for me as a stepmom, mother, and wife.
Somehow, we made it through and reached what my husband and I jokingly called ‘the honeymoon years’ — that blissful period when our oldest two were done with puberty and our younger two hadn’t yet started it. But now, friends?
The honeymoon is over.
Teen angst is rearing its ugly head and going through it all over again is giving me major PTSD flashbacks. The upside is I’ve read this particular story before and I know how it ends. Chances are excellent that no matter how bad it gets over the next few years, it will eventually get better and both our younger kids will come out the other side of the teenage years stronger and smarter and able to make it on their own. Also, still speaking to me and visiting every Christmas and Thanksgiving and hopefully paying their own car insurance. Because Mommy needs a new pair of Louboutins, AMIRITE?
Kidding. We are still paying our 28-year-old’s car insurance and I have never so much as touched a pair of Louboutins in my life. Fix it, Jesus.
I don’t claim to be the greatest parent in the world. I don’t even come close. But I have learned a few things raising my stepdaughters and I’m clinging hard to those life lessons now that we’re going through the teen years all over again. I thought I’d share some of them with you because there will come a time when these words could offer you a fleeting moment of clarity in the twisted funhouse maze that is raising teenagers. Here goes nothing.
When the going gets tough, picture the 40-year-old version of your teen watching you.
Years ago, I read an essay written by a dad who remembered how much he’d hated his stepdad’s decisions for him at 16, and how much he appreciated them once he became a parent of teens himself. Since then, every time I’ve laid down the law to my teens and they’ve pushed back or made me question my own judgement, I’ve imagined the 40-year-old version of themselves watching me. In almost every case, I’m absolutely certain that their 40-year-old selves would approve. This little trick has been a game changer and given me so much more confidence in my parenting skills.
A mother’s love only goes forward.
I came across this phrase in a novel once and I wish I could remember which one it was, because I’ve often thought about it in the years since I read it. It’s easy when our kids become teens and even adults to get cranky about the fact that we typically give so much more emotionally than they give us in return. The point in the novel was that we should never expect our tremendous, all-encompassing love as mothers to be fully reciprocated by our children. Instead, think of it as laying the groundwork for our kids to show that same love to their own children some day — to pay that love forward. This thought is a huge a comfort to me when I’m feeling unappreciated and want to pull back emotionally.
It’s completely normal for things to get rough during the teenage years — Otherwise, our kids would never leave the nest.
My mom said this a while back and it stuck with me. Obviously, our goal as parents is to raise our kids to become healthy, happy, INDEPENDENT adults, right? How would that independence ever happen if our relationship with them was as easy and sweet as it was when they were little kids? They are supposed to want to leave home at a certain age, and we are supposed to want them to leave. That doesn’t happen without conflict, and it’s important to remember that most parent/adolescent conflict is normal, even if it isn’t easy to bear.
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.
This quote from Winston Churchill definitely applies to parenting tweens and teens. Never give up on your kids. Not when they look at you like you’re a piece of gum on the bottom of their shoe. Not when they disappoint you in a hundred different ways. Not when they make impossibly bad decisions. Not when they don’t call you back. Not when they don’t seem to care what you think or how you feel. Not when they cut you off. Not when you bail them out of jail in the middle of the night. Not when they run off with some tatted-up biker named ‘Scooch.’ Not when they’re 17 or 24 or 38 or 50. You don’t have to put up with their crap and you absolutely should set boundaries for yourself, but I also believe you should make absolutely certain they know you love them, you care about them, and you want what’s best for them. And those things will never, ever, ever, ever, ever change.
Make your home your teen’s soft place to land.
I’ve always loved the idea of creating an environment at home where my kids feel free to let it all hang out. I want everyone who lives here to feel like home is the place where they can be their true selves and be accepted and loved unconditionally, a place where they can make mistakes and be forgiven for them and loved through it all. When life inevitably gets rough, I want home to always be the place they long for. And when I look at the atmosphere of our home through this lens, it quickly becomes obvious what’s working for us as a family and what isn’t.
Have another ‘baby’ before your kids leave the nest.
I’ve basically made a career out of being a mom/stepmom for the last 16 years, so I’m well aware empty nest syndrome could hit me especially hard. That’s why it’s become important to me to have another passion ready to pour my energy into as my kids become more independent. Traveling the world and writing about it is quickly becoming my next chapter — my new ‘baby’ — and I’m so grateful to have a focus outside of my children that I can put more time and effort into as they grow older. Your post-kid passion probably looks very different from mine, but make sure it’s something you love and have always wanted to devote more time to, whether it’s going after that job promotion, learning to paint, volunteering, going back to school, whatever — You’re about to have more time on your hands to make it happen and it’s okay to be happy about that, even as you feel sadness that your kids are growing up.
Don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry.
I grew up in a household where my parents, though awesome, were never, ever wrong, and as a teenager who made lots of mistakes and was often having to apologize and atone for them, this ‘perfect parent’ dynamic made me feel less close to my mom and dad than I wanted to be. I think it also initially made me set an unreasonable standard for myself once I became a parent.
I quickly learned that raising kids is one big trial and error experiment, and there’s no way I’m getting through it without completely botching things from time to time. When I do, I make a point to apologize to my children for my mistakes. I think it’s made us closer and made it much easier for them to apologize and to talk about their shortcomings without feeling defensive or misunderstood.
If you have perfect teenagers, KEEP IT TO YOURSELF.
It really bothers me that every single time I see a parent make themselves vulnerable on Facebook and admit they’re having a rough time with their teen and need advice or commiseration, someone always feels the need to crow about how wonderfully marvelous their own teens are and how they’ve had absolutely no problems with them. Trust me when I tell you this is not what any other parent of teens wants to hear. I have been that parent with the perfect teenager. I have also been that parent with the teenager who is completely going off the rails — Guess what? IT WAS THE SAME TEENAGER! At different time periods! I have realized from my experiences and those of other families we know that it often only takes one bad decision, one botched dating relationship, one prolonged surge of hormones, for your formerly perfect teen to become a complete trainwreck. Count your blessings if your teen is currently trouble-free, and keep your mouth shut.
It sounds so simple- but truly listening is one of the hardest things a parent has to do. It’s easy to go on autopilot when your kids goes on and on about Fortnite or YouTube videos or the latest Manga series, but it really pays off to put serious effort into giving them your full attention as often as possible. You don’t always have to offer advice or answers- Just listen and then ask them questions. It’s a really easy way to strengthen your bond with your teen and to make them feel like they’re being heard by you. Plus, you’re laying the groundwork for conversations you want to have with them once they’re adults.
Believe your teens will eventually will come around.
Back when my stepdaughters were teenagers, I was absolutely certain they hated my guts. We’d had a great relationship when they were younger and I grieved the loss of it; I felt at the time like they’d completely forgotten all the good times we’d had and were going to continue hating me for the rest of their lives. Today, they’re both in their twenties and I’m happy to say we all get along great. We visit them often. They come home often. They have a fantastic relationship with their younger siblings and we spend lots of time together as a family. It’s exactly how I would have wished for it to be at this stage in their lives — but if you had told me back when they were teenagers that one day we’d all be a happy family again, I seriously wouldn’t have believed you!
This knowledge has helped me so much now that I’m entering the teen years with our younger two kids. I have more confidence now that if I can get through the ups and downs of the teenage years and try to do the best job I can, we will have a great, close relationship when they’re adults.
I continue to mess up on the regular, but I think I’m kinder to myself this time around, and I definitely choose my battles more carefully than I used to. I’m also a more relaxed parent today than I was ten years ago. Parenting teens is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but you will get through it. I promise.