Raising Teens When You’re Sick
Raising teens is awesome and terrifying in turns. It is so neat to see them turning into adults and so scary to back off and let them live with the choices they make. They are unpredictable, spontaneous, have boundless energy, and don’t always think before they act. Even when I don’t have to do anything for an activity, the fact that it’s happening can stir up anxiety for me which leads to fatigue. Like when my two youngest came home from deer hunting with a doe and then proceeded to process it in the garage and my kitchen. They did all the work, but I was a wreck about sanitation and refrigeration, and the mess of dishes piling up in the kitchen. Which they washed themselves, so “what was the problem, mom?” (Thank you, Lord, for providing meat for our table!)
One of the hardest things about being disabled due to my lung issues+, is not being able to keep up with my teens and young adults. I love to be out in nature and do things like hike and raft with my children, but over the last couple years this has become very difficult. When I want to participate, I have learned that I need to plan carefully and even then not every activity goes as planned. Day to day activities cause me to be tired. This only gets worse when things happen at the last minute and I do not have time to prepare. My teens don’t plan very far ahead, so these are my best tips for raising teens when you are chronically ill.
- Communication is the hardest thing for me and my sons. I often feel like a broken record telling them over and over again to let me know ahead of time what is going on in their schedules. We have a large calendar on the kitchen wall to record activities, but my sons do not always get their stuff on it. (For that matter, sometimes I forget too.) For example, recently one son told me at 10:30 PM that he needed a ride the next morning and that I needed to pick up a friend as well. If he had told me this earlier, I would have been in bed way before 10:30. As it turned out, I did not get anywhere near enough sleep and missed our exit on the way home turning a one hour drive into a two hour drive. Needless, to say I was not coping well and was useless for the rest of that day and the next. I know some families have a weekly meeting to discuss upcoming schedules, but I have never been disciplined enough to plan this. I do try to remember to ask him each Sunday evening what is on his schedule for the upcoming week. If you have any suggestions that work for you in this area, I would love to hear them!
- Listen to them and clearly set limits. Five of my six children are out of high school now. I have told each one of them that they can discuss anything with me as long as they are speak in a respectful manner. It is mind-boggling when I think of the topics we have talked about. Sometimes I think they picked a topic just to see if they would get a reaction from me. Try to stay calm. ( I know it’s easier said than done.) Set up what I call the non-negotiables: rules like; I will tolerate no verbal or physical violence in my home; I will tolerate no use of illicit drugs, alcohol, or smoking by my children while they live in my house; I will tolerate no sex in my house and no one may play with lighters or matches in my home.
- Keep your sense of humor and remember your love for your child! These days will pass all too soon and the house will be clean and quiet, and you will miss that messy, loud, awkward teen and his/her “tribe” of friends. Patience and forgiveness go a long way to smooth things out. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t handle something well and ask for their forgiveness. By doing this we teach our kids to own up to their mistakes and make amends for them.
- Plan ahead. When I know about an upcoming event, I try to plan ahead so I have the energy necessary to participate. This means not going anywhere the day before, getting to bed early, and putting together anything I will need to have with me. Two summers ago my children took me rafting. They did all the paddling, so I could float and enjoy the scenery. We had done this the summer before and it had been very enjoyable. However, last summer(2015) the water level was much lower and we kept getting hung up on rocks in the river. This required constantly shifting where we were sitting in the raft to get it free. Last time it took about an hour and a half to raft down this stretch of the river. This time it took almost three hours. Even though the trip was not going as planned, I was prepared with the necessary supplies. For example, someone was having allergy problems and I was able to whip out my emergency baggie and hand out a Benadryl. I had my rescue inhaler with me which I used several times. I had Tylenol with me for all the headaches and pains that occurred fighting with this raft. I had packed snacks, water, sunscreen, hats and sunglasses, but in the end we were all exhausted, I was in pain and it took days for me to recover. Plan as best you can and expect that things will not always work out. (BTW I’m done rafting.)
- Teach your teens to plan ahead and be flexible. To some extent we model this for them as we live our days, but they need to practice for themselves thinking ahead and planning for different possibilities. (Scouting has been a big help in this area for my boys.) Also, breaking large projects down into manageable bites is something we can model to our teens and something that they may need help figuring out for themselves, such as with a large school project. Ask them questions that get them thinking instead of telling them what to do.
- Teach life skills. Teach your teens how to do everything you know how to do to manage the house, prepare meals, handle money, drive, etc. If you need help with this, enlist someone’s expertise and energy whether it’s another family member, a neighbor, a coworker, a doctor or an instructor. They need to know how to function on their own and you need assistance. Beware of the “perfection monster”! Good enough is good enough. Assign them tasks and notice when they have done them. Say thank you. It makes both of you feel good.
- Set up consequences and follow through if your non-negotiables are violated. I have taken lighters, game controllers and airsoft guns away from my teens when they were being used improperly. I have grounded my teens who were getting into trouble at school or drinking alcohol in the park with their friends. I have had the excruciating experience of having to remove a teen from my home for not obeying my non-negotiables. I have also had to parent a teen who got into trouble with the law. Teens will test the limits and you have to be ready to enforce them. In my opinion, this is the hardest part of parenting teens. By God’s grace, my troubled teens have grown up to be fine, productive adults and we are very close as a family. I once had a teacher tell me that if we get our teens safely to adulthood we will have done a great parenting job. We really need a long-term perspective here.
- Other issues. As long as they are clean, covered, and well-groomed they can choose their hairstyles and clothing. Their rooms are their responsibility to keep clean. Sometimes I will suggest that it’s time to “shovel their rooms out,” but I leave it up to them unless they ask for suggestions regarding organization or just need a person to talk to while they work. Have a set time for them to do their homework and try to stick with it. At our house it is after dinner. As long as they are trying their best and doing their schoolwork, I try not to fret over their grades. If they see you reading and learning new things, they will be better able to see education’s value. Save your battles for the really important stuff!
- Remember to take care of your needs first. Rest when you need to and pace yourself. We will never get this right all of the time, but we have to try. Our kids need us to be around and the only way that has a chance of happening is if we do all we can to take care of ourselves. I struggle with pacing myself. I struggle with choosing convenience food over healthy food. Some weeks I do better and some I just crawl through. It’s important though that we keep trying. Our children will never learn the value of self-care unless we model it for them and talk to them about self-care when we or they are going through a rough patch. We also need to be honest and ask for help if we are really struggling with something. Too often I get to the point of tears and total exhaustion, before I ask for help. Sometimes this happens because my energy suddenly is gone, but too often it happens because I’m not listening to the signals my body is sending me.
- Pray for your teens. Ask God each day to help you and your teens grow in love for each other and to have wisdom to make good choices. Daily put your teens into God’s capable, loving hands and trust Him to care for them. Otherwise you will exhaust yourself with worry and anxiety. This is so much easier said than done, but it is the only way I have survived this far raising six children!
- Find other parents of teens to talk with. Just knowing that you are not the only one going through this wonderful/terrible experience will be very helpful to all of you. It provides that all important perspective and support that every parent of teens needs.
- If you feel unable to help your child with issues of any kind, ask for help. Whether it be a tutor, or a counselor, help is available if we only ask for it.
How To Communicate With Teens
All of these topics have their place in raising teens. Each one is important, yet they all depend on communication. Which is why I’m repeating it and giving more specifics in this section.. It’s important to use “I” messages not “you” messages, because starting a conversation with “You … fill in the blank” usually leads to anger in the other person and once people get defensive communication stops. If we start with “I feel upset when … fill in the blank,” the other person is more able to listen to what we have to say. Our teens need to learn how to do this as well. Don’t get hung up on doing this “perfectly.” The only perfect person is Jesus Christ and he extends His grace to us so that we can extend grace to our teens and other family members. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-message)
In order to communicate we need to be able to identify what is bothering us, so we can clearly state it to the other person. The people involved may need some time to cool off and think about what is really bothering them, before they can communicate it to someone else. I often need time to figure out what I need or want and what it is that is really bugging me. We have to extend grace and forgiveness to each other, because we are bound to irritate each other sooner or later when we live together in a home.
Communication between spouses or co-parents is just as important as between parent and child. Probably the hardest part is being on the same page when it comes to dealing with issues with our teens. This was a nightmare for me in the early years of my separation and divorce. I found myself constantly in the middle between my ex and my children. As they have grown, I have learned to let him and the children figure their relationship out without my intervention. I am so much happier and my youngest sons have a better relationship with their father as a result.
If you are struggling with your teen’s unruly behavior or bad choices and communication is a mess, please seek counseling. Even if they refuse to go to a counselor, you will benefit by going. I know this is true in my life. There is hope, but sometimes we need to grow first before our child can. You can raise your teens to adulthood!!
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Till next time, Kathy