Halloween was coming and I was cringing thinking about social plans for my three children. I wanted to make all three of them happy and that’s not always possible. I also want to note before I go on that you don’t always have to make your children happy. I did however want them all to have a fun Halloween.
We always have the same families over for Halloween. I look forward to Halloween every year and have the best time with my friends. The families that come are really Lillie’s friends, so I have to make sure that Max and Ella have plans too if they want them. The key in that sentence is if they want plans. Teens are unpredictable in my experience and sometimes Max truly wants to chill out at home and do nothing. Sometimes he is itching for plans. Sometimes he tells me last minute what he is doing. He can keep my head spinning.
I didn’t want to deal with a costume or plans last minute this year. Last minute is too stressful for me. He pulled that on me last year and that didn’t work for me. I want to have a plan in place. I suggested that Max make plans with the neighborhood kids to go trick or treating. I can count five boys right near my house who would probably go out trick or treating with him. At 14 years old I didn’t even know if he would want to go trick or treating but was thrilled when he said he did. His friend texted him to come over and he didn’t respond. I am trying to teach him to check his phone and respond to texts. Friends and grandparents, I promise I am working on this!
Max ended up with plans with two friends and I kicked myself when I found out other boys from the neighborhood were hanging out at home that night. Sometimes I have to intervene. I am encouraging him to do things himself. I want him to text people and make plans, but I am finding that I still need to be involved. There are times when he tells me what his plans are, and I do my best to make it happen for him as I want him to be social. He is kind in the fact that he usually remembers to ask me what we have going on before he asks me if he can go do something. Lillie on the other hand is 9 years old and is already making herself plans regularly. My social butterfly who is always on the phone. All three of my children are very different and we need to learn what each kid needs from us. No child needs to be parented the same. No child has the same needs. You may even think that you have your child figured out and then they change and grow and need something different from you. Parenting is a skill that we will never completely master. Our kids will teach us more every day.
Don’t worry, I didn’t forget my fabulous middle child Ella. Sweet easy Ella. I shouldn’t give her that title as it’s a lot to live up to. Ella is very chill. She is not one to want a group of friends to hang out with. She wants to be with one or two people. She is low key and plans with a friend makes her very happy. She had her friend over and they had a wonderful time. She did request to trick or treat without her sister which did make me sad. Seth was a good sport and was happy to take Ella and her friend trick or treating.
You may suggest that your child go text a few friends to go do something Saturday night and they may never actually follow through. Who is your child? What do they need from you? My friend told me to have Max text her son and I laughed. I said I would try. I can’t physically make him text people, but I can encourage it.
I want to know who they are hanging out with. I ask a lot of questions. Sometimes I annoy them and back off. My questions tend to revolve around my assessing their mental health. When I ask Max about friend’s names his common response is, “You don’t know him.” My latest answer is, “Tell me anyway.” I want to know about their teachers and their friends. I want to know what is bothering them. I want to know what is making them happy. Ask questions and sit back and observe.
Know when to Back off
I told you that I ask questions. It is very clear when they do not want to talk or answer my questions. I really try to do it on their terms when they are in the mood to talk to me. I really work on reading cues and knowing my audience. Max tends to get in the car from school and not want to talk. He is tired from a long day. Lillie gets in the car and wants to tell me everything. You never know with Ella. It depends on her mood. Mood is the key word with teenagers. I know when I need to clear out and just give them space.
I know that they need alone time. I know that I need to give them space. I remember being a teenager and spending hours in my bedroom alone. I respect and honor this. I change with them. When Max spends too much time in his room I will communicate and tell him that I miss his face. They will also humor me and do forced family fun activities with me because they know it means a lot to me. I respect that they need space, and they respect that I need family time. They do too they just don’t always realize it. They had a great time going apple picking.
Invest and Listen
This tends to be on their terms. When they want to talk, I really try to put down what I’m doing and listen. When it’s 11 pm at night I may be dozing off, but I realize that no matter what time of day or night, I need to take it when I can get it. I think of a teenager like a cat. My cats come to me on their terms. They don’t always want attention. Sometimes they are like “Leave me alone.” I show them I care by listening and knowing about their lives. I missed an opportunity on the way to school. In my defense I was driving and focusing on my driving. Ella said she doesn’t like the book she is reading, and I didn’t ask her more questions. I will try to remember after school! If you miss an opportunity, you can go back to it! I want them to know that I want to hear what they have to say and that I respect their points of view.
The Importance of Peers
I know that my kids want to talk to their friends. I know that they are talking to their friends a lot more than they are talking to me. That is normal. However, I need to know who they are talking to. Know that their peers are the biggest influence on their behavior. Can you trust their friends? What are their friends into? Are their friends vaping? Smoking? Drinking? Staying out too late? Having sex? Will your kids tell you? Do you know the family? I will never forget learning at work that kids tend to get into trouble between the hours of 3-5 pm when parents are still at work. That is a fact that I will never forget. I’m thankful to be working from home so that I can keep an eye on my kids. I thought it was important to be home when they were babies, but I underestimated how important it would be to me in the teenage years. They still need you. They need you in different ways, but they need you. We need to know their friends and we need to watch our kids. I know how important peer influence is on our children. Let’s hope that they are making good friend decisions and let’s help guide them to the good ones. I also make it clear that I will read their texts. Remember that who they are friends with is the biggest predictor of their behavior.
Calm and Causal
This is Max’s best advice to me. You see, I tend to have big emotions. I feel things very deeply. This can be overwhelming to a calm introverted teenager. I have learned a lot of control over the years. I have learned to calm myself and try my best to be casual with him. He needs this from me. It is the best way to parent him. A loud mom can overwhelm a quiet kid. When I was grocery shopping with Max I bumped into a lot of friends. I was trying so hard to keep it short and sweet. I know he doesn’t want to stand there while I socialize. I know that he wants to focus on getting food he wants and that he wants to get home. I am aware of what my son needs from me. I am not going to tell you that I always put him first. I do try to have a lot of self awareness. The calmer and more casual I am, the better the situation goes. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. I have a feeling almost every teenager will respond to you better if you are calm and casual vs loud and reactive. If we can keep ourselves in check, we will get much further with our children.
The mom who used to do everything for my kids is gone. I still do a lot. I still do more than most. I am a caretaker at heart, and I love to take care of people. However, I am well aware of the fact that they want to be more independent. They want to do things for themselves. The more I can teach them and foster independence the better. This will give them more confidence and is what is the key to becoming a successful adult.
They Still Need Me
I remind myself that they still need me. It looks completely and totally different. Every year looks different in parenting. They all still want me to say goodnight, but it looks very different. They all still want me around, but they don’t always want to be in the same room. They still want advice from me when they want it. They still want hugs when they want it. I miss having babies. I am such a baby person. I do however love the people that my kids are becoming. I am learning to celebrate every year and become excited for what it will bring. Max started high school this year and I was so excited. I wasn’t excited when he started preschool, elementary school, or middle school. I was caught up in my own emotions about it. It feels different now. I embrace the amazing people they are becoming, and I remember that at age 45 I still need my mom.
Be open and honest
I keep the lines of communication open with my kids. I want them to feel like they can tell me anything. I tell them I’m an open book and that they can talk to me about any subject. I tell them stuff about me that they ask about. Max was barking at me about something that he wanted. He then told me something that he thought that I did wrong. He is a very smart kid and I tend to listen when he talks. However, I told Max that I needed to hear some appreciation from him. I still need thank you’s for cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, picking him up, errands and endless feeding him. I have to ask for what I need and so do they. They are learning from us.
What do they Need
I ask myself regularly what do my kids need? Am I being firm enough? Am I giving them enough freedom? Am I being a helicopter mom? Am I encouraging them to be social enough? How are they handling school and activities? Are they getting enough sleep? Am I feeding them healthy enough and did they take their vitamins? Are they seeming happy? What could I do better? I am constantly evaluating in my desire to be a wonderful mother for my kids.
Every kid at every age needs you to have clear boundaries and clear expectations with them. Do they know what time they are supposed to be home? Do they know what time they are supposed to go to sleep? Do they know that you expect them to eat dinner with the family? Max will say, “If you are clear with me then I know what to do.” Smart kid. Can’t you picture him telling his wife, “If you tell me what you want, I will do it.” Your kids should be able to tell you what you expect of them. This changes with age so we have to remember to update our expectations. I will tell Max to go to bed, but I go to sleep and don’t enforce it. If he stays up too late, he learns he is tired and then he goes to bed earlier. Natural consequences work too!
I don’t claim to know everything about parenting a teen. I claim to have the desire to be a better parent every day. I will keep learning and growing with my kids every day. Some days go better than other days. One day I may feel like a rock star parent and another day I may want to go hide in my room and get away from it all. The other day I almost posted that I was parenting Mr. Aloof, Miss Moody and Miss Sassy. That wasn’t on my best day. Sometimes my feelings get hurt. Sometimes I wonder where the old Ella went. Sometimes I miss my babies. Sometimes I take the moodiness personally. I think some of the best advice I have ever gotten is the lesson to not take things personally. Lillie got in the car one day and was not nice to me at all. I told her that wasn’t acceptable how she was acting, and she started crying about something that happened at school to upset her. There is usually an underlying reason for how our children are acting and a lot of the time it has nothing to do with us. I tread along in the world of parenting a teenager and almost teenager and try not to take their actions and moods personally. I remember that it is normal to be moody. I remember that it is normal to want alone time. Remember every day that you are not alone in this world of parenting. We are all going through ups and downs and we are all learning and growing as parents. If you are reading this, I have no doubt that you are an amazing parent.
Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R
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