How does your role as a mom change once your child becomes an adolescent? This is a question I am asked in some form or another on a regular basis in my therapy practice.
1. You still help with physical needs. While you are no longer physically brushing your child’s teeth, you are making sure their teeth are cared for. You take them to the dentist, orthodontist, buy their toothpaste, etc. You still make sure your teenager is getting a balanced diet too. This is actually a challenge for a mom of teenagers because teens go out to eat with their friends. Help them limit this activity to a healthy level and make sure the food available at home is good for them. Perhaps most importantly, make sure your teenager is getting enough sleep. I see parents let off the gas on the bedtime when their children are still way to young to manage this with maturity. If they aren’t usually getting 8 hours of sleep per night, they aren’t managing it well on their own.
2. Character development. To the best of your ability expect your teenager to behave in a way that lines up with the adult you hope they’ll be. Don’t do that whole, “They’re just kids and they’ll grow out of this.” If your teen is drinking, smoking, sneaking out, etc. it’s a good idea to reign them in. You also want to help them develop integrity, honesty, perseverance and responsibility.
3. Love. Your teenager absolutely still needs a lot of love and affirmation. Just because they’ve lost that baby cuteness doesn’t mean they don’t want to snuggle sometimes. Even if they are cold when you touch them, they still need it. Be careful not to put pressure on them to meet your needs for affection though. That sometimes drives them away from you. They need to hear you’re proud of them and that you believe they will make it when they step out into the world.
4. More space. More and more your adolescent needs the room to venture out. You are their safety net but no longer their director. They should be able to choose their own friends, own extra-curriculars, and own interests. When they “skin their knees” they need you to help them get back up, but they no longer need complete insulation from ever possibly “skinning their knees.”
The transition from parenting a child to parenting an adult is full of nothing but change. It is up to you to demonstrate flexibility with the constant change. Continue to love your children as passionately as you ever have, but understand that it starts to look different. You are no longer the center of their world, you have been moved to the supporting cast. Even though your role is less central, you are still immeasurably important.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT