A common refrain surrounds what it means to be a parent of teens—this stuff is hard. It’s echoed by parents of teens, people who have raised teens, and even by parents of soon-to-be teens. And they are right, raising teens is hard.
But there is a lot that gets missed in conversations about teenagers and all the clichés. As the parent of a teen and a soon-to-be teen, here’s what no one says about the teen years:
1. Raising teens can be really fun sometimes.
What often goes unsaid about parenting teens is that it’s also really fun. Is it hard? Of course. But all of parenting is hard. Getting up at night with a colicky baby is hard. Chasing toddlers all day is hard. And yes, parenting teens is hard too. Yet, for some reason, as hard as parenting teenagers is, what has surprised me most is just how fun it is. You laugh at the same jokes. You enjoy the same movies. It’s so fun sometimes that you start rearranging your schedule just so that you can spend more time with them.
2. Teens are sharp and sarcastic, but also kind and sweet.
It never ceases to amaze me and warm my mama heart when my son blurts out “I love you” to me, even when he’s with his friends. Teenagers might seem hard-edged, they might roll their eyes at us and call everyone over the age of 23 “boomer”, but they are also sensitive, caring and kind. They want to do the right thing, even if they don’t always get it right. They care about our feelings, even if they hurt our feelings sometimes. They are sensitive and afraid of disappointing us. And they give the best hugs.
3. In many ways, raising teens is actually easier than the pre-teen years.
Sure, raising teenagers can be stressful—especially once they are driving (eeek!)—but in lots of ways, it’s calmer than the pre-teen years. With both of my kids, ages 11 and 12 were like a wild roller coaster ride. The adjustment from elementary to middle school is enormous and the hormones are running rampant. But they are still so young and innocent. One minute you see the sweet little kid in them, and the next minute, they are slamming doors and shouting at their siblings. You live in a perpetual state of confusion, wondering what in the world is going on. You never know what you’re gonna get, so all you do is hang on for dear life. Then something shifts. They become a little less volatile. A touch calmer. More independent and communicative. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like a switch is flipped or anything; the changes are all very subtle. But they make a big difference.
4. Raising teenagers isn’t as physically demanding as the baby and toddler years, but it is emotionally draining.
I’ll be honest, raising teenagers has been emotionally draining in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I feel vulnerable, raw and exposed—all the time. You may not be getting up every two hours to feed a newborn, but you are losing sleep worrying about whether they might fail Spanish because of all the missing assignments. You want to cry with them when they don’t make the basketball team, but you swallow the lump in your throat so you can focus on comforting them. You navigate conversations about suicide and eating disorders and what to do if they need help getting home from a party even though it’s so terrifying that you want to throw up. All of this can leave you feeling emotionally drained.
5. Teens are funny. Like really funny.
Teens are funny. Like really funny. Not in that cute toddler way, but in a witty and smart kind of way. We watch the same tv shows now and share the same inside jokes. I learn the latest slang and teach them about the actual origins of the latest “Tik Tok song.” And there is nothing more satisfying than enjoying a big belly laugh with your child.
6. There are few things as magical as watching your child grow into the adult they will become right before your eyes.
It’s fascinating to see their minds expand before all of their innocence has been beaten out of them by the cruelty of the world. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of my son making his lunch or hear him laugh at one of his own jokes, and it nearly takes my breath away. Even though my kids love to “troll” me and I catch myself slipping into lecture-mode on many occasions, it is fascinating to hear their thoughts on things like religion and relationships. You see them growing into the adult they will soon be and your heart nearly explodes with joy.
7. Parents of teenagers are sometimes afraid to talk about the good stuff.
The clichés are so strong that, for a long time, I’ve been afraid to admit that I actually enjoy raising teens to others, especially other parents of teens. I hear the very real struggle in other parents’ voices as they talk about this stage, and I feel guilty for enjoying this stage of parenting. So I sheepishly hide these feelings.
There’s a hint of second-guessing too, wondering if I might be missing something. Should I be hating the teen years more? Am I just clueless? I’ve also been hesitant to admit this truth even to myself for fear of jinxing it. If I admit that I actually like raising teens, is that just testing my cosmic fate and sending one of those knock-the-wind-out-of-you, humbling experiences that remind you that you have no idea what you’re doing as a parent? Just writing these words feels reckless.
What I’ve realized about the teen years is that, like all stages of parenting (and life, for that matter), they are a Both/And experience. They are brutal and beautiful. Hard and fun. Challenging and rewarding.
Acknowledging the good parts doesn’t prevent or prompt the bad parts. The teen years will be hard— because all parenting is hard. But they are also really beautiful too. It’s as important to acknowledge these beautiful parts as it is to acknowledge and share the hard parts. If we can’t relish the good times when they come, how will we get through the challenging times?
Because being radically authentic about parenting doesn’t mean that we only share our struggles; it also means acknowledging the joys too.