Written by Karen Schranz
Karen Schranz is a 47 year old Maltese Gestalt Psychotherapist and a mum to 3 gorgeous kids; Oxy (19), Nick (17) and Lily (4). In the following article, she shares 8 crucial points of advice to assist mothers in preparing themselves for the teenage mothering stage.
CHANGING IDENTITY; MOTHERING A TEENAGER
Becoming a mother is one of life’s most beautiful experiences. It is a role that will change who you perceive you are as it will bring with it a new sense of identity. Along our motherhood journey we will experience many changes within our role of mother itself and it is very important that we adapt and modify our role according to our child’s emerging needs as otherwise we risk having a detrimental impact on their self-esteem, resiliency, self-support and sense of mastery.
As our children enter adolescence, the need to change and adapt our sense of motherhood goes into overdrive. There is so much I feel we have to let go of as we are no longer mothers to a “child”. This is a period of intense growth for our child; physically, emotionally and intellectually and it is very understandable that it is a time of upheaval for everyone involved. Our child has entered a stage of development where he/she is taking tentative steps towards becoming the potential adult within. It is a bumpy though beautiful road as they step into and embrace their new identity as an adult in the making.
Becoming a mother of an adolescent brings with it the experience of polarities and these may leave you feeling helpless, lost, angry, filled with self-doubt and confused. I remember at times feeling completely needed, then completely redundant, at times loved at times hated, at times important at others useless, the list could go on forever. This is completely normal as our adolescent is still slowly embracing his own new sense of identity and at times may feel like a child and other times feel grown up and anywhere along the spectrum in between.
Although we may have a negative perception about the “teen years” and anticipate them with fear and trepidation, it’s not all bad news. I cannot say that it will not be a time of conflict, this is synonymous with adolescence, however the teen years are also a time to help our children grow into the distinct individuals they will be become. I believe that it will truly help the process if we update and change our identity as a mother accordingly. “I am now the mother of a teenager, what does this new role require of me. The main goal of the teen years is to achieve independence and to do this teens will start pulling away from the parents. This can make you feel unwanted or unimportant and constantly at odds with your teen. It is possible that a child who used to conform to please the parents will start trying to assert himself and his opinions and rebel against a parent’s control, be prepared for changes, sometimes very surprising ones.
Below are some tips that may serve as a supportive backdrop to assist you through these turbulent but wonderful years.
- Read up about teens
Parents who know what’s coming can possibly cope better as they are prepared for the physical changes, the mood changes and the personality changes.
- Inform your teens
The earlier you start talking about emerging sexuality and the physical changes puberty will bring with it the better. I find that answering questions with information that they are prepared to handle is always the best policy. The earlier you start with open communication, the better your chances of keeping it open through the teenage years. It may be a challenge, but it is important to accept that your teen is developing into a sexual being with strong urges and feelings, the more you normalise it, the less guilt and shame will be experienced from your teen.
I find that it is also important to keep yourself informed about current drugs and other harmful trends and discuss these with your teen. One experiment I found to be useful in helping my daughter be prepared to say no was roleplaying situations. I would pretend to be a friend trying to persuade her to smoke a cigarette for example, and I would put a lot of pressure on her. She would practice saying no to me. I did this in the hope that this would provide her with the inner support required when she really faced situations where she needed to say no.
- Pick your battles
Save your objections for things that are serious, harmful or dangerous such as drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Teens tend to want to shock their parents so expect the odd experimentation with bizarre fashion, be flexible with this and intervene only if it is something that will permanently change their appearance.
- Discuss expectations and boundaries
Although a teen will typically want to challenge boundaries and always push for more, they are paradoxically lost without them and will feel that parents do not care if not in place. Discuss expectations about school grades, acceptable behaviour and sticking to house rules (e.g. curfews). This helps ground teenagers and gives them a sense of stability albeit an “unwanted” one.
- Maintain open communication and contact
Your teen will start to venture out without you. It is extremely scary letting our kids go out into the big bad world but we need to let go (with age appropriate limits). They will want to meet groups of friends and hang out or go to the cinema etc. As they grow older they will want to go to Paceville (PV) and more fear inducing areas of entertainment.
I found that providing my children with a mobile phone and establishing that they were to always keep it on them and be reachable helped to minimise a lot of the anxiety this wandering away from the nest brings with it.
Mum+ Vodafone mobile phone package could be an option worth exploring; it is a new mobile package that offers unlimited calls, anytime, any day between you and your child, find out more here https://www.vodafone.com.mt/mums
I am so grateful for mobile phones for the opportunity to keep in touch with my teens, both for them if they need me and for my peace of mind in being able to check in on them.
- Respect your teen’s privacy
This point may prove to be a challenge as we may feel that anything our teen does is our business. However it is essential to grant our teen some privacy in order to help them become a young adult. You do have a right as a parent to intervene if you suspect trouble but otherwise it is best to simply give them space. This means that emails, text messages, phone calls and even their room should be private. You are not entitled to expect to share all that is happening in your teen’s life. It is important for safety reasons to have a supervisory overview of where, how and what they are doing but you do not need every detail. This kind of relationship is based on trust and if trust is broken then it is understandable if freedoms are limited till trust is once again rebuilt.
- Monitor Technology
I found this to be one of the greatest headaches of my kids’ teen years. The sense of panic I felt was huge when I realised that via the internet my kids have access to vast amounts of information, a lot of which is inappropriate for them. Lurking amongst the relevant and useful data the internet provides are hidden dangers. We do need to monitor who they are communicating with online, what they are reading and viewing. Do not hesitate to set screen limits, access to technology should have designed times. I personally felt safer and had no hesitation in taking phones and tablets after a certain time at night (despite tremendous protests and death threats).
- Be understanding, reasonable and empathetic
It helps to remember what it was like for you as a teen. Putting yourself in their shoes might help you be sensitive to the issues, conflicts, turmoil, challenges, changes etc. they are experiencing. Acknowledge their feelings and try to be as rational and reasonable as possible, especially during the moments when you encounter a crazy side of yourself you never thought existed with in you. (Joking apart it does happen when you are in situation where you feel helpless and lost)
Some of you may be passing through the mothering a teenager right now, some may be dreading its impending arrival, however to be in the situation you are in now means that you survived the sleepless nights of infancy, the tantrums of the terrible twos and all the challenges the other stages of your child’s life brought with them. The teenage years, with all the inherent ups and downs will pass too, opening the door to a new phase in your life. If we use our heart as our guiding light (it has worked well so far) and maintain the flexibility to change our opinion if need be, all should be fine. Take a step back, say to yourself “I am now the mother of a teenager, what aspects of my mothering do I need to let go of, what do I need to update and change and what new aspects do I need to embrace in order to be the mother of a teenager?” Doing this will help change your obsolete identity as mother of a child to your new identity as mother of a teenager.