Every season of parenting comes with its unique set of blessings and challenges. There are joys and struggles we experience daily, sometimes simultaneously, as we raise our children.
When our children are young, we are faced with sleepless nights, temper tantrums, naptime, and a seemingly never-ending stream of physical demands that can leave us feeling depleted by the end of the day. We are exhausted in a way we did not know was possible because we are now in a season of life where we don’t seem to have a minute to even go to the bathroom by ourselves.
During this time, we might find online communities, parenting groups, mommy-and-me classes and other support systems to help us with problems as they arise. We type, Help. My child won’t nap, or What do I do if my child doesn’t want to share? on our social feeds and are bombarded with suggestions from helpful friends and strangers.
People with older children look at us walking with our newborn babies, toddlers, preschoolers and even elementary aged children and lovingly say, “This age is exhausting, but parenting teens and older children is exhausting in a different kind of way.”
From my vantage point, parenting teens meant sleep. So, I thought that it had to be well worth whatever challenges those teen years would bring. Like most everything in life, we don’t really know until we’ve arrived.
My children are ages 11, 13, 15 and 17, and I am living that new kind of exhaustion those well-intentioned people spoke about when I was pushing my toddler on the swing at the playground. This exhaustion is indeed different from the exhaustion I experienced when nursing infants and chasing toddlers. This exhaustion is more of the mental variety, and also has come with something that I wasn’t warned about or prepared for: loneliness.
The loneliness of raising tweens and teens is real, and the more I have talked to friends who are in the same season of life, the more I am coming to find it may be more common, and worthy of conversation, than we may realize.
So what do we do when we find ourselves in that state of loneliness? How exactly do we cope? Here are some things I have found helpful in this stage of life.
Eat the chips and queso.
Find a trusted friend or two — one who loves you and your family — and plan a night out to vent and talk about all-things teen related. It doesn’t have to be over chips and queso, but you get the gist. One of the reasons this season is isolating is because we don’t feel we can openly share like we once did. And this is for good reason. I’m not going to go onto my community Facebook page to talk about my teen’s personal struggles like I did when they were being potty trained. We have entered new terrain and their privacy is important. Not to mention, people can be judgy and people can talk — which is why it’s important to share with the right people. When you’re venting to someone who values you and your family, you know they aren’t going to whisper your secrets to someone else, but they will probably offer you a tissue and a hug if you need it.
Seek professional help when needed.
Raising teens is a whole new ballgame that can come with some heavy topics. Sometimes, we just don’t know what to do or who to turn to. Maybe you’re concerned your child is developing an eating disorder, is struggling with depression or anxiety, or has started experimenting with drugs and alcohol. These are hard topics to address and can bring up a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your child’s physician or mental health professionals when you have come to a crossroad you aren’t sure how to navigate. They will have resources available to help and can steer you in the right direction. Also, don’t underestimate the power of finding someone to talk to yourself. A neutral third party can offer a lot when we are going through hard times.
Remember, you aren’t alone.
This can feel like an isolating time, but the reality is you are not alone. So many have walked this road before you and want to be there to help. They say it takes a village to raise a child for a reason. There are a lot of people rooting for your child, and for you as their caregiver. There are books, articles, podcasts and a wide variety of resources available on topics from professionals and other people who have dealt with similar issues to those you are facing. If you are a person of faith, consider finding a prayer partner. If you have a friend you trust who is in a similar phase of life, have a time when you check in with each other once a week. There are ways to protect the privacy of your child and still build a supportive and trusting community to walk alongside you as you deal with difficult issues that arise.
It feels like a lot, but you’ve got this.
This is the time of life where we can log a lot of hours behind the wheel, on the bleachers and working hard to manage the schedule. Between the physical demands and the emotional needs, it can feel like a lot, but I’m here to say: You’ve got this. One day. One hour. One minute at a time. And when it feels like too much, don’t forget to get out of the house and go feat the chips and queso.