Finding the Courage to Stand on Your Own Parenting Island

Sometimes when you are parenting teenagers it can feel like you are living on a deserted island, right?  

When our kids were younger we scheduled playdates. While they worked on their social skills with our guidance, between getting a sippy cup and reminding them to take turns, we were able to catch up with other moms and dads (often commiserating and swapping stories about not getting enough sleep at night, or being driven nuts by the worry of malnutrition because our kid wouldn’t eat anything except chicken nuggets). There was camaraderie in parenting when our kids were babies and preschoolers!

But as our offspring grow into the adolescent years, we tend to stop sharing so much with one another. We may find we are busy with work, family life, and running the kids to and from activities so we just don’t have time to connect with one another. Something else begins to happen as well…we begin to worry about how our parenting will be perceived by others. Let’s face it, as our kids venture more steadily into thinking and doing for themselves (sometimes making less than wise choices), we wonder if (a) we are doing a good job parenting, and (b) if others are judging us based on what our kids are saying and doing.

Yes, raising an adolescent can definitely feel isolating at times, though I am convinced this developmental period in our sons and daughter’s lives is just as critical a time to have a support system and a community of parents in place as it was when our kids were in the throes of the “terrible twos”.

In addition, parents sometimes fall into the trap of becoming overly influenced by the thoughts and actions of extended family members or other parents in their “circle” to a point of isolating themselves because they just don’t want to admit that this phase in their child’s development is challenging. If there is some backtalk and/or head-butting at home, it’s easy to believe you are the only one experiencing this with your teenager, especially in our world of sharing only the “highlight” reel on social media. 

Guess what? You are NOT alone! Teenager-dom has its ups and downs for every single family! Even if you don’t hear others talking about their struggles.

And, as much as our kids need their peers for support, empathy, and encouragement during their middle and high school years, parents need the same. Balanced, of course, by an understanding of when to share and ask for advice from others,  and when to listen to the wisdom of their own inner voice.

So let’s talk about inner wisdom in parenting for a moment…

First of all, what does using your intuition to parent your teenager really mean, and what does it look like?

Inner wisdom or intuition is the Divine voice inside of you…the strong feeling of “knowing” what to do. We all have this little voice inside of us. Sometimes we listen to it, then ignore the direction we’re given (often regretting it later), sometimes our minds are so busy we don’t hear it at all. I want to remind you that we were all born with inner wisdom because we are meant to use it!

Yes, sometimes it takes courage!

In order to hear our “gut” (intuition), we’ve got to slow down and take the time to be quiet. The best way to do this is to make a commitment to carving out 5 minutes at the beginning or end of the day (in a quiet space) to sit upright, close your eyes, and just be still with yourself. Don’t lie down, you will fall asleep.  (I know because it happens to me).

If you’ve never meditated before it will take some practice to quiet your mind. It might take a few days, or a few weeks…but, I promise, if you make this practice a priority in your daily life, there will be benefits beyond those that will show up in your parenting! 

During those few minutes of attentive quiet time, concentrate on your breath…if it helps, say Breath in 2-3-4…hold (hold the breath) 2-3-4, exhale 2-3-4 over and over and over. If your mind wanders that’s totally normal,  just notice it and begin again. Have a word to bring yourself back to center, mine is “thinking”, so when I catch myself launching into my grocery list or worrying about my son who is out of state I say “thinking” to myself and then return to a blank slate. Listen, I may have to do this 10x in one session, and then there are times when I only have to say it twice. What I’m telling you is don’t get frustrated, it takes practice! Set a timer on your phone, or better yet use the Calm app if you are worried about running overtime. Commit to doing this for the next week straight so we can talk about your progress at our next session. Overachiever? Great! Then journal about it right after to track your experience! Bonus points for you if you can lengthen the still, quiet time to 7 or 10 minutes, or to twice a day!

One additional piece of meditation advice is to set an intention before you begin. Ask for clarity around a situation you are facing, then, counting the breath as above until you get into a rhythm, open your mind to receiving the direction.

Now, the “how to use it” piece of intuition…here is an example of what this looks like in a very typical situation you might find yourself in as the parent of an adolescent.

Devin* is a 16-year-old sophomore in high school who gets straight A’s. He is on the basketball team, has had a few girlfriends (though nothing that lasted too long or appeared to be serious). Devin’s a social kid…well-liked by his classmates. And he is a wonderful older brother to your middle school-age daughter.

Let’s say you get a call from a good friend who has invited you and your husband to spend the weekend away at their lakehouse, they have a daughter the same age as yours so she would be going along and would be excited about this opportunity.  

But, Devin can’t go along because he’s got an ACDEC meet all day Saturday. You haven’t left Devin home alone before and you are wondering if this is the time to try it out. You know he will be in an academic competition a good portion of Saturday, and you will be home Sunday before dinner time. Devin will want to get a good night’s sleep Friday night so he’s ready for the meet. The only questionable period of time is Saturday night. Devin knows the rules about not having anyone over when you aren’t home and he’s always been responsible to respect that, as well as to the curfew you have given him.  

The pros seem to outweigh the cons, so you and your husband decide to say yes to the invitation and give Devin the opportunity to stay home alone while you enjoy the weekend at the cabin with friends.

Later in the week, when all the plans are in place, you begin to feel uneasy about the decision that’s been made to leave Devin home alone. Something about it just isn’t sitting right with you, even though you remember all the reasons why you and your husband thought it was a fine idea earlier in the week. You keep trying to convince yourself it’s all going to be okay and you are worrying about nothing.

However, the nagging feeling persists and at the risk of upsetting Devin, after sharing with your husband your concerns you end up calling your friend Mary whose son Justin is on the same ACDEC team. You ask if Devin can stay with their family for the weekend. She says it’s fine with them. 

When Devin gets home from school you explain your change of mind and the plan for him for the coming weekend. At first, he is angry, he says you don’t trust him, he tells you he’s adamant that he won’t stay with Justin. You doubt yourself again. Letting some time pass, when he’s cooled off you re-engage the conversation letting him know that while it may look as if you don’t trust him, the bigger picture is that you want to be sure he’s set up for success at the meet and also you’ve rethought whether or not it’s the safest idea to have him staying alone at sixteen.

Parenting your adolescent is like walking a tightrope. Yes, we need to loosen the reigns a bit, especially as they get closer to college-age (if that’s the plan after high school), but you also know even the most mature, conscientious teen can be tempted or make a choice (especially if they are with their peers) that could lead to a bigger challenge than his momentary hurt feelings. You are comfortable with having listened to your instinct on this one, there will likely be a time for Devin to need to stay home without supervision, but this isn’t the opportunity.

The second goal of this module is to discuss the importance of creating both personal and family values. Maybe it seems like an unnecessary step to actually think through and write these things out, but you’d be amazed at how you can believe you are imparting your values onto your child when, if you’ve never really spent much time or energy thinking about it (let alone writing it down), or talking about this with your family, you really aren’t doing so. This step of defining your values will then lead you to have a conversation and set your family up for being consistent with words and actions. It’s never too late to do this!

Defining personal values is the first step. What do you believe in and how do you live that out loud in your own life? A natural extension of this is to sit down with your partner (if applicable) to talk through and define what your family values are. I’m not suggesting you need a “top 10” list, just a guideline for what your family stands for by putting intention into your daily life. Our mission is to raise independent, capable, resilient young people who are ready to lead the next generation, right? They can’t do this without our guiding them today.  

So, move to the next assignment now, and let’s put this key element to family success in place!

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