Happily Even After
Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen
by Josh Noem
I feel like a war-worn, battle-tested survivor today after parenting the kids alone while Stacey is away. In one day, two of the three children abruptly outgrew their school uniforms—their pants just all of a sudden didn’t fit. Next, I held lines with a hormonal, irrational, and emotional teenager over an utterly nonsense issue without escalating. Finally, I had to break out the sewing kit to make repairs to two non-clothing items, once during breakfast and then again during dinner.
The key to it all, looking back from a comfortable distance, was holding lines and boundaries and avoiding escalation. Escalation is how we describe what happens when a conversation continually rises in intensity and then boils over.
I usually have the line-holding thing locked down. That part is easy for me. It is just that I easily escalate as I hold those lines because I become offended if they are crossed.
For example, Oscar began a conversation just before bed by saying this, “Daddy, I feel like you outright lied to me…” I called a time out right there and had him go back to his room and think about a better way to begin that thought. I told him that I did not intentionally deceive him, and accusing someone of lying is a big step. He consulted a dictionary and held his line—he felt like I lied to him.
Understanding that he had come to this conclusion thoughtfully, I let him proceed with his statement. He was talking about something utterly insane—he felt like I was preventing him from going to bed sooner—so I called a second time out and told him to hit the sack because the conversation was not going to be productive.
Now, if it was still an issue in the morning, we could talk about it then, I told him. He was miffed in the moment, but I’m pretty confident he got over it in 15 minutes. Our poor son has hormones raging through him and he just isn’t himself sometimes. In some ways, he literally is becoming someone else—his voice is changing and his body is transforming into an adult’s.
There is an old saying that is ringing more and more true to me the older I get: the boy is the father of the man. The line means that the habits and proclivities we cultivate in our youth shape the adult we become. Looking back, I see this as true in my own life. Looking ahead, I see that we have a responsibility to help Oscar cultivate the man he will become one day.
That lens changes what lines I hold with him and why. I used to hold lines about respectfulness because I felt like children should honor their parents (which they should, of course). Now I hold those lines with Oscar because I want him to become a respectful man who communicates thoughtfully when he matures.
Oscar is changing, and his changes are transforming our family, and asking more out of us as parents. As a teenager, he is highly sensitive to anything that even smells hypocritical, and this is calling us to more integrity and honesty in our parenting. We have to be able to hold lines in a firm, but loving manner, and to absorb escalating emotions without making him feel distanced. We can clearly see that he absolutely needs firm boundaries now (more than ever), but that he also desperately needs to feel heard now (more than ever).
On top of all this, we must maintain and perhaps even increase our physical affection for him. Touch is one of the ways Oscar receives love—he has always responded to physical affection, whether a rub on the back or a sudden hug. As he grows into his teenage body, which starts to resemble an adult body, it seems natural to give him more space and privacy. While he does need those, he also continues to need bodily expressions of love.
So in many ways, he is asking us for that which is most difficult to give right now—parenting him is like swimming upstream. Balancing all of that is not easy, but true growth never is, and it will make us stronger swimmers in the end. We are taking another step in the way family life is calling us to grow towards perfection.
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