This piece originally appeared in the November 2018 ‘Calm’ issue of Fernie Fix Magazine.
Keep Calm and Parent On
Life with young people is rarely calm. From wake up until bedtime, children of all ages require attention and energy from their grown up caregivers. Although parents of teenagers have a little more freedom, the mental demands remain substantial.
Parenting Teens = Planning and Preparation
You won’t be feeding and changing and bathing your teen like you did when they were much smaller, but you may be providing safe rides late at night or dedicating weekend after weekend to out-of-town tournaments. Just keeping the fridge stocked is a full-time job! Plus, you are likely selling your time on the labour market to pay for all the things your teenager wants/requires.
The financial cost of outfitting a teen for school or sports is much higher than when they were little, which means the work of parenting has shifted from being direct and ‘high touch’ to more administrative. Your evenings might be spent balancing your budget instead of fishing Lego pieces out of the furniture.
Most Valuable Skill: Emotional Capacity
The hardest thing about raising teens is usually the emotional charge we feel about how they act and the choices they make. Which one of the following examples kicks up your feelings?
- Teen won’t answer your questions
- Teen stays out late
- Teen doesn’t care about school
- Teen refuses to visit family
- Teen spends all day gaming
- Teen wants money
- Teen leaves a pile of dishes
- Teen plays loud music
- Teen begs to use the car
- Teen comes home with a surprise tattoo or piercing
We all have triggers that set us off, and living with teenagers can feel like a mine field. Maybe you are relaxed about your teenager dating but you really wish they didn’t spend so much time in their bedroom on the phone. It would be easy to point the finger and decide you would feel calmer if your teen was more open and available, but your feelings are your responsibility alone.
Calm is an Inside Job
It might seem like our children with all their demands and desires are to blame for the stress we feel. If you add on long hours spent at a paying job that doesn’t necessarily align with your personal ideals, calm can feel a long way off.
In reality, parenting is deeply meaningful work that gives us a sense of purpose and connection unlike anything else. But we don’t usually acknowledge how emotionally taxing this role is. It’s tempting to think, ‘I’ll be calmer when my teen doesn’t argue so much’ or ‘I’ll be happier when I work less and have more money.’ Is that really true? If we adopt a mindset of thinking happiness lies in the future, that’s where it’s always going to be. Better to notice the sweet moments that occur *now* and what we are grateful for *today*. Practice prioritizing people before things
Is Calm a Goal?
Consumer society relentlessly markets the idea of ‘calm’ to us. We see pictures of models and actors looking pleased and totally at peace in ads for everything from dentistry to house boating. The sell is always the same: ‘use our service or product and you will look serene and feel contented.’
Parents know the reality of family life includes perpetually long to-do lists and plenty of emotional ups and downs. Yet research shows that having children doesn’t detract from our long-term well-being. Studies indicate that parents of young children rate their life satisfaction as medium-low, however dying people report that that what brought them the most fulfillment is their closest, loving relationships.
Calm Can Be Found in the Morning
Teenagers are notorious for staying up late and sleeping until noon, if they get the chance. Nights can seem long for a mom or dad who wonders why their kid isn’t home yet or worries about underage alcohol use (more on that next month). But mornings can be a great time for adult self-care. I encourage parents of teens to use the quiet periods when your kid is sleeping in to fill your own emotional cup. Talk with friends you can be real with, get some exercise outdoors. That way you will have increased capacity to be open and relaxed when it’s needed.