If you could go back in time and relive your teenage years, would you? Chances are that you wouldn’t go through them again for love nor money. They are tumultuous times for children but they’re no walk in the park for parents either. It’s not just dealing with the eye rolls and attitude that makes parenting teens hard. It’s the fact that this can be a very lonely stage for parents too.
Where did all the other parents go?
In the early years of parenting there are so many opportunities to meet other parents. People are drawn to small kids. It’s not unusual to stop and exchange pleasantries with five different people when you have a baby or toddler in tow each time you visit the grocery store. Then there are all the toddler groups and activity groups in the early years. There are the chats on the school run in primary school years, which mean there is not often a day that goes by without a chance to chat to other parents.
When it comes to parenting teens this easy and regular connection with other parents is lost. Gone are all those opportunities for a chat with other parents in the school playground and at activity groups. You may still meet up with the parent friends you made while your children were growing up but the meet-ups are infrequent, as you have to squeeze them into your busy lives.
Mum-villages and dad-villages get smaller
At a time when parenting throws so many new and difficult challenges your way, suddenly you can find that the mum-village or dad-village that you had earlier has shrunk considerably. You have experienced what it was like to have a community around you when your children were younger. So you can miss this regular company and support even more when it is no longer there.
A problem shared was a problem halved
When your children were younger, any time a group of parents got together it didn’t take long for the conversation to come round to discussing the trails and tribulations of parenthood. You chatted about everything from stories of potty training, sleep issues, sibling squabbles or school worries. It always felt so good just to be able to talk about how you were finding parenting and to laugh or rant about the tricky bits too.
There was a real sense of relief when you realised that you were not the only one feeling a certain way or facing a particular parenting struggle. The knowledge that so many other parents were experiencing the same frustrations made it easier. As the problems were universal they seemed fixable too.
Sharing your parenting problems was what kept you sane when you were at your most exhausted or most worried. There was a real feeling of all being in this together and all being able to get through it together.
Without this easy sharing of the trials and tribulations, parenting teens can feel indescribably lonely.
Teenage problems are not our stories to tell
Even when you do meet up with other parents of teenagers you can no longer share stories like you used to. When your kids were toddlers it was perfectly acceptable to discuss every behaviour quirk and every transgression. There were no holds barred when it came to discussing potty training anecdotes and tales of the full-blown tantrum your toddler threw in the fish finger aisle in the supermarket. When it comes to parenting teenagers it no longer feels as easy to talk candidly about the problems that arise.
It’s not as acceptable to blurt out that you have just found out that your son has been watching porn or that you think your daughter has an eating disorder. These are topics that are harder to share and that don’t feel like our stories, as parents, to tell. We now have a much greater need to protect our teenager’s privacy. It doesn’t seem right or fair to speak openly about the issues they are facing or the teenage problems they are grappling with. And so, parents of teens often stay quiet and do their best as they struggle alone.
There’s no cuteness in the chaos
Before, even though the antics our children got up to drove us to distraction, you often learnt to laugh about them later. You felt able to share them as a funny story at toddler group or a cute photo on social media. If you posted a photo of your toddler with a bowl of spaghetti on their head on Facebook, it was reassuring to get likes and comments from other parents who both sympathised and nodded in recognition.
With teenagers there is no longer any cuteness in the chaos. Instead there’s acne and attitude, braces and big issues. The mistakes your teenager makes are not appropriate to share as funny anecdotes either face-to-face or online.
By feeling you can no longer share, parents also lose the clarity that comes from voicing their struggles out loud and the wisdom that arrives gently from the parenting community.
The fear that you’ve messed up
There’s perhaps another deeper reason why parents don’t want to talk as freely about their teenager’s behaviour. And that’s the fear that you’ve somehow messed up. Teenagers can say and do things that can touch your deepest insecurities as a parent. They can make you feel like you’re getting it all wrong. Teens see your flaws and hurl them in your face to hurt you when they are angry. It can make you feel like you’re doing a rubbish job at parenting.
Often we are scared to talk about what’s going on at home as we are scared that we will be judged or criticised. Somehow, saying it out loud feels like an admission that we’re failing as parents. However keeping quiet can make parents of teens feel very lonely and alone.
The online world goes pretty quiet for parents of teens
During the younger years, when you struggle with a parenting issue or problem, you often look online to find advice and support. Most of the time you will find some tips to help you through the stage or conundrum. You will most likely even find an online community of parents all going through the same issue. These parents can provide another level of support.
However, the online world just sort of goes quiet for the parents of teenagers. All the parenting sites, blogs and vlogs are focused on parents of babies, toddlers and young children. There’s not much out there for mums and dads of teenagers. Except for the scary stories of kids and families gone wrong, which is not very reassuring.
There seems to be some sort of idea that parenting teens is not as difficult as caring for little children. That there’s no real need for articles and forums to discuss what it’s like to be a parent to a teenager. The online sense of community for parents of teens seems to be largely missing. This can make you feel even more alone.
Parenting teens is lonely but you’re NOT alone
The teenage years throw up many new challenges and issues that we can feel unsure how to face. It’s easy to feel like we’re getting things wrong and not being the best parent we can be.
Parenting is hard. It’s also amazing and wonderful and rewarding and one of the best things you’ll ever do. However it can be a shock to realise how lonely you can feel as a parent. This is especially true as a parent of teens when company, community spirit and support seems to be in shorter supply. Always remember that if you feel like this as a parent that there will be countless others who feel the same way too. You’re not alone. Just knowing that can make you feel a little less lonely.