I am woman deep in the parenting trenches. There are no diapers to change or tummies to burp, but this dispatch comes from a place of tantrums, tears, and sleepless nights, nonetheless.
You see, I am the parent of a teenager.
Not only that, but I also have two tweenagers – a tween being any child between the ages of 10 and 12.
My life is curfews, chores, and driver’s ed. It’s judgement calls, rules, and decisions about electronic devices. There is whole section of gray hair on my head devoted to the PSAT and Algebra.
There are conflicting feelings, hormones, and character developing moments zooming around our house. We have literally gone from laughter to tears and back again in the span of one dinner conversation.
Let’s not even talk about how my desire to appear chill as a parent is at odds with the fact that whenever the words “boyfriend” or “dating” are spoken I want to break things.
This is some deep, dig in and hunker down stuff, these years between childhood and adulthood.
There are wonderful things about older kids, of course. I really love this phase of life!
But it is challenging, too. And weird. These people I have known their entire lives are changing, growing up.
At times it feels like the newborn days, the joy and delight of getting to know these people. The fear that I’m going to fail them.
Personality plays a part.
My sixteen year old is my mini-me. We look so much alike that people often do a double take when they see our photos. However, we are opposites in many ways. We don’t mean to, but we often misunderstand each other.
This was strikingly evident when I bought a mother-daughter journal. I was excited to write back and forth with her. She found it pointless to write when we could just talk to each other.
I felt hurt by what I interpreted as being rejected. She felt like she was wrong for being honest with me about not being into journaling. Hurt feelings, all around, again.
I paid to have my teen take a personality test (my husband and I took it as well) and the results were confirmed: she and her dad were exact matches. Their no-nonsense communication style favors getting to the point over, say, a long conversation written back and forth in a journal.
Simple. To the Point.
What does this mean for my communication with my teen?
It means that she wasn’t rejecting me, as I had feared. She just truly doesn’t need to spend a year journaling with me to feel close. In fact, from her end, there wasn’t a drifting apart. Things were fine.
It also means the two of us can communicate more effectively with each other. I respect her need for “just the facts ma’am” dialogue and she understands that sometimes mom needs more thoughts and feelings.
I’m also working on not being so sensitive. I think that is really more about my fears as a parent. Our time together, in this way all under this roof, it is so short now. I get anxious about that, it feels like there is still so much left to teach her, to prepare her for.
However, she doesn’t need me projecting that onto the polite, simple sentences she gives me as replies and reading something into it that isn’t there. Teenagers aren’t the only ones who are sensitive and emotional, it would appear.
Detailed explanations, please.
The opposite of his older sister, my son will happily chatter away in detail about any topic you wish. You speak his love language if you ask about his favorite video game, the book series he is reading, or his thoughts about the menu changes at a local restaurant.
If you want someone to keep you company while you wait for an appointment or a buddy to help a tedious chore become tolerable, this is your kid. He asks interesting questions and gives imaginative answers.
When it comes to family rules and chore assignments, my son wants to know the whys behind the rules. During family meetings, my son is the one with the most questions, clarifications, and suggestions.
We haven’t done a personality test with him yet, but I’m confident that things like list making and planning are going to part of his results.
That long, detailed explanation my oldest child has a hard time paying attention to? My son needs these details, as clearly as we can give them, repeated often.
Having the family chore chart, family calendar, and rules where he can check them is a help to him. It isn’t enough to speak about these things, he needs to have them written down as well.
As a parent I have found that having those house rules, calendar, and chore charts posted helps to end arguing because the expectations are right there, clearly written out.
Being a safety net.
My middle daughter is introverted. She is feelings focused, and sensitive to anything she perceives as criticism. What seems like a simple explanation or reminder of the rules feels like an accusation to her. She is uncomfortable with too much direct attention.
Explaining rules, setting healthy limits, and teaching her has to be done keeping these personality traits in mind. I don’t have an issue treating her gently because she and I are quite a bit alike.
When she wanted to know about the facts of life, she sat beside me with a pillow over her face so I couldn’t look at her. She plainly stated that she would like some books about the subject, please and for me NOT to talk to her about it.
I discretely left some books on her bed and made her promise to come and talk to me any time she wanted clarification. I was mostly successful about not asking her twenty times a day if she had any questions.
And you know what? This was the best way for her to process this information. She knew what she needed. She knew how to ask me for it. I call that a parenting win.
Guess what is she enjoying a great deal right now? Writing back and forth, leaving notes for me in that mother-daughter journal her sister was not a fan of. I knew that book was a good idea!
I’ve learned that personality and communication style matter in the parent-child relationship, especially in the years from childhood to adulthood.
Look, your kids are going to mess up. You are going to mess up. Apologies are going to be necessary, on a daily basis, if your family is anything like mine.
If there is one takeaway I want you to have from this article, it is this: Keep the lines of communication open. Keep love and respect in your dealings with each other. Keep your sense of humor.
Getting a front row seat to watch these amazing people grow up is absolutely worth it.