Teenager or Toddler? Parenting the Teen Years

 Did anyone ever tell you that whatever your daughter is like at the age of three is a preview into their teenage years? I remember hearing that and being terrified. I had a – let’s call it spirited – three year old! But then came year four and my daughter was once again delightful and I put that dire warning out of my mind. Ahahahahaha. Just think of all those wasted preparation years.  

Parenting a teenager can be a lot like parenting a toddler. Remember that one time when your toddler had a meltdown that lasted for two hours over AIR? Or when your three-year-old argued with you over the color of grass? Yeah, it’s like that some days. I’ve been known to text the spouse before he walks in the door with the warning “don’t poke the bear.” This stuff is real.  

In all honesty, I thought we were done with this. I figured we had parented some sense into our both of kids over the years and the irrational toddler years were now just funny stories.  A few weeks ago, I was standing outside of a closed bedroom door shouting “I’m trying to do something nice here!” and I had a flashback to eleven years ago only I was shouting at a crying toddler “I’m trying to give you ice cream for heaven’s sake!”

Just like the toddler years, teenagers push boundaries, discover new likes and dislikes, challenge authority, and navigate a whole new world. They are truly trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be, and how all of that fits together. Being told this is a natural progression into adulthood (which it is), that a strong will is her asset (also true), or that we with both get through this (I hope so), doesn’t make it easier. I’ve been a bit forlorn. I didn’t want to repeat the toddler drama (she says in a whiny voice while stamping foot). I have come to realize that while the behaviors may be similar, and the reasons for those behaviors equally the same, parenting a teenager using toddler methods is going to fail.

I’m trying something new.

  1. I’m giving my daughter some space.  We have made her room a free-space within our house and I don’t enter unless invited.
  2. I don’t take it personally. There are days when the generosity of my daughter can blow me away. But there are other days when that kid can’t see past her own wants and needs. Teenagers are selfish creatures. It’s far less personal than it might feel. Remembering this helps me respond like the parent in the room and not like a fellow teenager.
  3. We practice flexibility. Just because today is the day we finally have time to do the thing out of town does not mean this is the day everyone’s emotionally ready. Sometimes I just have to “let it go.”
  4. I let her fail. I suppose this applies at any age. When we let our kids fail, we also let them succeed. Both of my children have presented me MANY opportunities to watch on the sidelines through friendship changes to bouts of irresponsibility. It is not easy to sit back and watch them suffer through the natural consequences of selfishness, moodiness, or thoughtlessness especially when those consequences affect me as well. I so very much want to fix it. But then comes the most important way to parent a teenager…
  5. I love her, I love her, and then I love her some more. Because a parent’s love is unconditional and I get to prove it more than once. There is fallout to these teenage actions and I am privileged to love my girl though it all.

There are days when I miss my children being little because I miss the sweet fun we used to have. I also miss how easy it was to pick them up and deposit them in timeout. But there are more days when I’m thrilled to be on this journey with them, when I am humbled to have the front row seat to their pretty spectacular futures. If you too are parenting an unpredictable teenager right now, know you are not alone. It’s just like those toddler years when we supported whichever one of us had to leave the grocery store before we were done, knowing today it wasn’t us but it probably will be us tomorrow. We are all in this together.


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