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After bringing home my kids from the hospital, I definitely had a case of the baby blues—a form of postpartum depression—with each of them. I'd read about it and knew it was coming and yet, until you go through the melancholy yourself, you really don't know what it feels like or how to deal with it.
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A friend and I discussed this, and she explained her experience as a huge shift that she needed time to get used to. She said it always took about two weeks or so to adjust before she could even catch a glimpse of her old self.
It was the same for me, but then as time went on, I fell into a normal routine and felt more like myself than I ever had before.
Then, my oldest son went through puberty and I felt those postpartum depression symptoms creep in all over again. Only they weren’t the baby blues anymore. My baby had left the building years ago and I literally didn’t know the person standing before me wearing boxers and eating boxes of crackers.
I kept thinking the feelings around this would shake out, but they clung on. I was sad. I felt off and couldn't pinpoint what was going on with me.
That was about three years ago and honestly, I still feel the same low-level sadness I felt the very first time I realized he had changed, and our relationship was different. I keep waiting for the tide to shift; I keep hoping I will feel back to my normal self, but it's not happening.
I do love the teen years for so many reasons. They are independent. They can help out more. I can do the shopping solo and they can bring me food and run to the store for me. I love all that– I get to enjoy being a parent and reap the benefits of their independence, while they still have lots of years living under my roof.
This was supposed to be the bliss point. Some days it is, but mostly, I can’t let go of the underlying feeling of darkness these years are bringing me.
You’re Not Alone
So, do other parents feel this way? The answer to that is, yes. Feeling blue as a parent to teens is common–a perfectly normal part of our journey.
"My oldest is turning 14 and going to be a freshman. I'm not dealing well," said mother of two, Stephanie W.
"I have one child who got her license in October and I have overwhelming moments of panic," said Shelly L. "How did we get here?"
"Now that my youngest is getting more independent and social he doesn't need me as much,” says Jennifer K., mother of three. “Unfortunately, I'm someone who needs to feel needed."
But no matter what your personality is, navigating this part of life is going to have its challenges. Mayra Mendez. Ph.D LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California says, "Parents may feel confused, anxious, and distressed about parenting throughout development."
This is different from when we are parenting younger kids—those years consist of worrying about "bonding and nurturing development and social-emotional competence," says Mendez. She goes on to explain that when we transition into being parents of teenagers, we "experience feelings of sadness, grieving the evolution of their child's development and the change of your relationship.”
Parents of adolescents can become familiar with the pain of feeling rejected by their teenagers as they get pushed away. "No longer does the parent have the power of being the ultimate positive influence in the teens life, instead, parents are most likely relegated to the back of the line of influential people," says Mendez.
When you add the emotional ups and downs that the teen is experiencing in the mix, you desperately have to find a whole new way to parent that works for you and your child. Mendez says this, "triggers uncertainty, self-doubt, grief, and sometimes a sense of sorrow or melancholy,"
This is so me and almost every parent of a teenager that I know--and it makes perfect sense.
How to Cope With These Feelings
The good news is there are some great, healthy ways that parents can deal with these emotions.
- Reflect upon realistic expectations. Redesign priorities and anticipations to align with the “new normal” and development stage of adolescence.
- Understand adolescence from a developmental and social-emotional framework to support normalizing the transition and the shift that the parent-teen relationship experiences.
- Strengthen feelings of empathy for the teen and the transition process by remembering that the social-emotional developmental journey is less about losing a child and completely about gaining a maturing relationship with a magnificent human being.
- Appreciate and value the change in the parent/teen relationship as an accomplishment in the contribution you made as a parent to your teen’s development and growth towards a productive adult life.
- Be open, accessible, and sincere with your teens rather than defensive, guarded, and controlling.
- Try not to take the teens mood shifts and emotional dysregulation personally. After all, it is just a natural part of development, identity formation, and maturation. Remember that you were once a teen as well.
- Look for ways to connect, communicate, and engage with your teen. Find interactions that work to support the relationship without suffocating or restricting the process of individuation, independence, and maturation for the teen.
- Look for ways to participate in self-care to fill the void created by the shift in parenting a young child versus parenting a teen. Parents likely experience fewer opportunities for involvement in activities with teens, but benefit can be found in using some of your free time to engaging in self-nurturing activities.
It's a funny thing when we long for our kids to be more independent so we can have a respite, and before we know it, we are crying in the kitchen sink because they don't ask us one hundred questions before bed time any longer.
If you are parent of a teen, catching the blues can tear you apart for sure. I've found looking at their baby book over a pint of cookie dough can help, but I keep that indulgence to myself.
I'll save sharing that nugget for the day they call me to say how lost they feel because suddenly their baby has their driver's license, and a bad case of never listening or cleaning their room. I just think they’ll appreciate it more then.