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Have you ever noticed how when you are strolling around the store with a baby, strangers stop you to offer advice and share their stories, but no one does that when you are walking out on public with a teenager?
Maybe that's because nobody has the slightest clue how to raise humans who are “half in and half out”—our teenagers live under our roof and are forced to follow our rules, but we often disagree on curfew and phone time, not to mention their teen attitude they lug around like with them.
They have one foot out the door and aren't as open as they once were, and parents of the world are often left guessing what is going on, what's really going on, in their heads. They are starting to rebel, and it can feel like as soon as you advise them not to something, it’s all they want to do.
Just because parents don't get stopped by strangers with advice doesn't mean we don't get advice from those who have been there and those who haven't but assume they know better-- the same way many of us thought we were expert child-raisers before we had children of own.
I've come to the realization I don't need to even consider or listen to that unsolicited or solicited advice from anyone, including that given by my kids' doctor, if I didn't feel it was the right decision.
But this idea didn’t come to me easily. When you are a parent and feeling insecure about a decision, it's so easy to go outside your gut and your intuition and ask, or listen, to someone who offers their opinion even if you don't ask for it. There is nothing like becoming a parent that’s made me stop trusting myself. And I decided to take that self-trust back.
Then I realized something one day while a friend (who doesn’t have teenagers) was trying to diagnose my son after he was getting into trouble in school: I know my kids better than anyone.
If I stop and think about the things that have worked for them; the things they have always responded to, like taking a privilege away and earning it back—something that has always worked well with my oldest—I can incorporate it into their lifestyle now.
My daughter has always been very quiet and while she struggles talking about her feelings, she is very good about writing them down. When she’s is struggling and acting out, I get more out of her in a text exchange than I do if I try and sit down and talk to her. That was a tough one for me to get used to, I felt I was somehow failing her by not talking face to face.
And my youngest does not respond to fear the way my oldest does. If I tell him examples of what could happen if he looks at the sun too long, all he wants to do is look at the sun.
I know my kids. I know what works for them, and most of the time it is the same stuff that worked for them when they were younger and life seemed quite a bit simpler.
That doesn't mean I don't struggle with trial and error, and I certainly don't get it right all the time. But I do know how to run my house in a way that is best for all of us.
I think as moms sometimes we forget that we have our gut-feelings and our intuition and our Mama Bear instinct and we aren't able to shut out the outside noise.
And what the extra noise does is make our voices and our first instincts fall to the bottom of our "what should I do?" pile until we aren’t even considering our thoughts or opinions on the subject.
It’s easy to get caught up in how everyone else may handle a certain situation, but the chances of your child reacting to something in the same way another child will isn't guaranteed. Neither is following the advice in a book or from someone who has been there.
I'm not saying don't use these examples as sounding boards, but there have been too many times I followed some advice I found in a book and knew deep down it wasn't the right thing to do but felt it was more credible than my instinct as a mom and it backfired.
I’m talking about everything from sleep training my newborn son and letting him cry it out like my pediatrician and a few sleep books said even though it didn't work and made us both cry for hours.
But I’m also talking about the advice I got about forcing my son to do sports against his will. It made him closed off and hate to try new things for fear he'd feel the same humiliation he did when he was pushed to do something that didn't feel natural to him.
Books and talking things out can be good and can present us with tools to help us be the best parents for our kids. But it's important not to stuff the voice that comes to you during a time when you or your teens are struggling because we are led to believe we really don't know what we are doing.
We are their parents. We know them like no one else does, and that right there is the best place to start with a plan of action.