What do you recall learning about life from your parents as a teenager? I don’t recall intentionally sitting down for talks or teachings in all of the areas that swarm our teenagers’ lives these days. The list of things to cover with each child is seemingly endless! Where is the manual? I just want to check things off and not miss important bullets so my kids aren’t the ones saying one day: “My mom never talked to me about those things.”
I do remember my mom laughing. I remember her dancing in the kitchen on Saturday mornings to Stevie Nicks as she thoughtfully put together a plate of her favorite cheese and crackers to indulge in. I remember her working hard, so hard, doing whatever it took to build us a better life. I remember her taking us to fun festivals on the weekends, early rides in the car to school, her advocating fiercely for me — never afraid to speak her mind — and I remember she always took great care of herself. I always loved that about her. I guess, as I sit with it a little, I do recall some of those teachable moments. How about you?
Empowering teens with life lessons
- On the mom side … whew! Here’s just a sliver of my stream of thought when I consider the things I want to empower my kids to remember …
- Healthy boundaries, financial freedom, the power of how you start your day and therapy.
- The importance of physiology, movement, exercise and eating healthy and the punk sugar can be to our bodies.
- Diversity, politics, social issues, drinking enough water, empathy, play, rest, reading, safety and how to say NO loud and clear when someone gets in your personal space or, God forbid, touches your precious, precious body.
- Time management, the best music, the beauty and healing of travel, how to cook and how to pay bills, how to do laundry and properly clean your room and to periodically get your hair and nails done.
- Drugs, alcohol, dating, skin care and being self-aware when you’re walking into your apartment at night after getting home from that job — also job hunting and boundaries with bosses.
- Oh, also good car care, safe friendships, vitamins, mammograms, social media and – and – and YAY ADULTHOOD … it’s going to be great.
For a time I was a single mom carrying this torch of life, love and other mysteries I would hand down to my teens. The importance of this calling was not lost on me. After having cancer and enduring a hysterectomy, I waited and prayed for so many years before finally becoming a mom — MY DREAM! When that dream came true, I did not take the gift lightly. I wanted to get it all right and get it all in during those short 18 years we had together because once they could fly the coop, they — along with the bulk of any opportunity I had to “train them up in the way they should go”— would also be gone.
I was banking on that Biblical scripture promise and my faith in God that training them, raising them well, would be my best shot at honoring them as their mother. So, I got strategic. And now on the other side of raising them, I am so glad I did. I worry less now because I can look back knowing I fought to be intentional, present and to be me. Are you confident in your parenting?
You’re going to need that boldness to survive this season. Let’s take a look at a few things I think can help. To clarify is to empower!
While you’ve got them, I recommend three things:
1. Be intentional with your words and time.
For children, even our teens and adult kiddos, time = LOVE. Remember that list I rambled off? Sit with it. Make a list of what’s important to you, what you want your teen to know and dedicate some real time to meaningful conversations around any and every topic you want to cover with them.
I have found that avoiding the work of motherhood is what makes motherhood hardest. Without taking the time to pinpoint the values and tools you want your teen to leave home with, we can miss some of the sweetest moments of intentionality that make all the difference. Sometimes that looks like hard or awkward conversations to broach a meaningful topic that is best started in the safety of their own home before the world teaches them in ways that may not honor your family values.
Over a few months, I walked through a “rights of passage” with my teens. We intentionally watched movies and had discussions to look at and discuss what kind of women they wanted to become. It’s OK to flat out tell them: “Sit with me, I want to talk to you about ________ and ________ and ________. I think these are important lessons as you’re growing up, and I want you to bring up anything else you want to talk about or have questions about. Let’s talk about all the things!” They will be glad to have a safe space and it will spur you both on to more topics! Communication is the bridge to everything.
2. Show up.
For them, yes, but also for you. Do you remember your mom laughing? Playing? Resting? Dancing? Reading? If you’re like me, I’ve found these are some of the most important treasures of life as an adult. And yet they’re so hard to get around to sometimes. But this is the stuff of life! You take good care of you, and your children will see the importance and beauty of taking care of themselves, too.
I had to learn that every moment is not a teachable moment. Showing our kids the value of play and rest and even solitude are some of the greatest life tools we can give them. By seeing us play, pause, laugh, dance, nap, read and enjoy, their hearts will remind them of this as they get older and find themselves overwhelmed or stressed or in need of inspiration. Seeing you in your deepest joy and authentic freedom of self gives them permission to live that way, too.
3. Have grace.
As my daughters were growing up, I held sacred weight in the responsibility of raising young adults who would be fully equipped for anything, and rightly so! They are my heart walking around outside my body, loves of my life, my legacy! Also, I needed to chill on the pressure — on them and me. Finding the balance in parenting is a daily, sometimes moment by moment, job.
Remember: of all the parents on the planet, it’s YOU who are called to be theirs. Your wisdom, values, hopes, words of life matter. Speak up and hold firm your boundaries that teach your teens both safety and freedom. Confidently steward the gift of authority and love you hold in their lives to guide them the best you can, where you are, with what you have. And realize no one is doing this perfectly.
Spoiler alert: they will do things their way, just like you and I did. All the more reason to give the very best foundation of truth and love we possibly can while they’re in our nests before releasing them into this wild, beautiful world of possibility. Find that sweet balance between mindful, intentional, strategic parenting — and also playing, resting, swimming, hiking, traveling, reading, dancing and, most definitely, laughing.
Stacey Johnson is a licensed professional counselor in private practice at The Purple Couch. She holds a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and certification in experiential therapy and the Daring Way curriculum to help women develop shame resilience and transformative courage. Her primary work is leading Magnify Mavens Mastermind, a dynamic 12-week whole-health and personal growth intensive for women. She is also founder of Single Space, a community of encouragement for single women and hosts The Girly Bliss Show podcast for women in every season. Her greatest joy and accomplishment are her eight children. Follow her on Instagram @staceyjlife or her website staceyjohnson.life.
This column is the eighth in a year-long series on family mental wellness, written by local experts on topics pertinent to parents and children. Columnists include Johnson, Dr. Erica Faulconer, pediatrician at Northwest Pediatrics and mom of three; Thai-An Truong, LPC, LADC, in private practice as a postpartum therapist and mom of two; Jeanae Neal, registered behavior therapist and mom of one; and Dr. Lisa Marotta, a psychologist, writer, speaker and mom in private practice in Edmond.