I am so lucky having two amazing children and having them so far apart, essentially they’ve been like only kids. They are like Ying and Yang, so different from each other and yet I have noticed one thing that has remained the same… when they really needed me… my time… my presence… and surprisingly that has been in their teenage years.
I was a working mum for both of my children’s little years, it just wasn’t an option to be a stay at home mum for us. Thankfully my hubby (Tony), was able to be at home for our daughter for her really early years until we put her into daycare. Things started going off the rails when my son hit 13-14 and the signs really showed up in his school report. I knew he was struggling emotionally and academically and something needed to change so we could get back on track. So I put it to my boss that I needed to change my work hours and I worked from 8am to 3pm and got home around 3:30pm in time for my son’s arrival. Instead of having a battle with him every afternoon over school work, I used this time to really connect with him. We’d go for a walk or just chat over making afternoon tea in the kitchen. I made time to listen, to joke, to discuss what was happening with him at school with his friends and with his teachers. We worked together on finding solutions around getting his grades back up, he did the work, he just used me as a sounding board.
I’m so glad I did that now and I am fortunate to spend just as much time now with my teenage daughter. While she has no struggle with school work, there are always things we can discuss around school and friends. Remember, this is the time that “experts” say that children become increasingly distant and build their own circle of friends with the aim of becoming independent. Yes… both of my children have changed and our relationship has changed. Yes… both of them are fiercely independent and are/have evolved into fully functioning, confident adults. The difference is that we still have many moments of closeness and many times they will come to me to provide that sounding board to work out a problem. I provide that space of no judgement, relaxed conversation that helps them to explore who they are and what sits right with them in each challenging situation.
I also found, when I worked with teenagers as a counsellor, that many of them felt misunderstood and had little connection with their parents. These teenagers always bounced back with improved communication, quality time with one parent and with the parents undertaking some skills training in listening without judgement.
Recently I came across an article that backed up my experience with my approach to spending more time with them as teenagers (instead of when they are little). It covered a 7 year study with children starting between 8-11yrs old and tracked the progress of development. It basically points to research showing that individual time with your teenager helps build their sense of self-esteem and social skills. One important thing they noted was
“After testing the strength of the stereotype that teenagers assert their independence by avoiding their parents, researchers found that adolescents actually still wanted a close relationship with their parents, but in more concentrated periods”.
If you’re wondering how to do this within your busy working life… I would say … make the time. Make it happen! It doesn’t mean that you have to leave work early every day, but perhaps it’s possible for just one afternoon. Or if not, on the weekend. If you’re one of those super mums who is constantly running around dropping children off to sport, dance or after school work… make the time in the car to have the chat! Just remember, keep your judgements to yourself, refrain from criticizing and be prepared to connect by listening with your heart and seeing the world from their eyes for that time. It just takes one parent, so if you really can’t/won’t make the time for it to happen, make sure your partner can… your teens need you!