"I look back on her teenage years as being the loveliest stage of her childhood" said no parent, ever.
Living with teenagers can be stressful, exhausting, sometimes fulfilling and certainly unpredictable. Here’s some thoughts on how to help your child transition to a happy and healthy young adult, whilst keeping your own professional and personal life on track.
These are based on my own experience and feedback from other parents. Remember you are the expert on what’s right for you and your family, these are only ideas.
Be a role model for a happy, healthy and meaningful life
Teenagers don’t appear to listen to what we say, but they certainly copy what we do. Pay attention to your own diet, exercise, sleeping habits, alcohol consumption, over-work and other life style choices. That includes letting them observe you having fun and making time for things you enjoy, as well as working and being a parent.
It’s not selfish to have outside interests and let your children see that life is for living. Don’t pretend to be a clean-living paragon when you are not. It’s much better for them to see you balance a few days of healthier living to make up for a period of excess, whether through work or play. That’s real life.
Turn off the digital devices
Teenagers are notoriously critical of their parents so don’t make it easy for them to call you out on double-standards. You can’t expect them to make conversation with you if you are checking your own emails at the dinner table. Try to make some family rules about screen time and stick to them
Talk, don’t bottle up your emotions
It’s normal to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and tired from time to time. It’s also normal to feel frustrated or angry with your teenager sometimes too. Reach out to people who will support you. At work, advice and feedback is usually helpful.
In our personal lives, you don’t necessarily need advice, just someone to listen to you non-judgementally. It’s ok for your teenagers to see that you can feel vulnerable or overwhelmed from time to time. They will learn how to deal with stressful situations from observing how you cope.
Other people’s children may appear to be coping much better than yours, and other parents appear to be managing their life and career better also. That may be true, or it may not be.
Surround yourself with a supportive network and don’t judge your own family life or other people. Life is a marathon not a sprint. If your children are facing difficulties now, then they will learn from their mistakes and build resilience. Don’t beat yourself or them up for not being perfect. You may even have to relax your high standards – maybe one relaxed, home-cooked meal with all the family round the table each week is enough to aim for?
Create an easy space to talk
As teens become increasingly independent they often spend more time with their friends than their family. This can feel like a rejection.
Try and keep the lines of communication open. It is essential to invest your energy in maintaining a good relationship, even when they have trouble communicating. Talk to them about what you are up to, and perhaps they’ll reciprocate. Find the best time to get them to open up. Many parents say that their teens talk to them when they are taxi-ing them around. If your children are more relaxed in the early evening, then grab a cup of tea and chat to them when you get home, rather than rushing to do chores or doing work.
Ditch the guilt
Some days you simply have to put your professional life first to cope with the demands facing you. That’s modern life and that’s how you pay the bills. Don’t beat yourself up about it. They’ll respect you for your achievements, even if they don’t show it right now.
No one says it is easy to balance work and family life. Smaller children are tiring but they are easier to control than stroppy teenagers. It’s hard for many of us to let go, particularly when we are usually in the driving seat in our personal and professional lives. Pick your battles carefully. Like all childhood phases, this won’t last for ever.
Written by: Zena Everett
Zena Everett is an executive coach and speaker on productivity and career strategy. An organisational psychologist, she has trained in cognitive behavioural coaching and coaches on the Executive MBA programme at Oxford University’s Said Business School. She is a speaker for the London Business Forum. Zena is the mother of two teenagers and a well-mannered basset hound.