I love having teenagers. People often look at me as if I’m a couple puppies short of a pet store when I say that. Perhaps, they seem to be thinking, living with three teens has finally broken her.
But I really do love teenagers. To be fair, though, I have said that about all the stages of child raising. Except newborns. That was really not my bailiwick. Teens are fun. They have opinions and a sense of humor. We can do things with our teens that are fun and mentally challenging for us as well as them. While I absolutely loved reading aloud to my kids and did it several times a day, being able to recite “Dr. Suess’ Alphabet Book” or “Moo Baa La La La” from memory are not shining intellectual achievements.
Teens get a bad rap. Sometimes it is deserved. When they throw the most withering of looks at us or roll their eyes so deep into their heads it is surprising they don’t get stuck, they do their contemporaries no favors. When they grunt and grumble in response to reasonable questions or utter “you just don’t get it” sotto voce because they couldn’t be bothered to speak loud enough to be heard, thus requiring us to ask them to repeat themselves, they aren’t helping their cause.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to live with teenagers and enjoy them. It is conceivable that they can be entertaining and fun. Liking them and being liked by them is achievable. Below are some things that worked for us. Our kids are far from perfect and there have been many times when we’ve all wanted to break up with each other or at least not speak for a bit. As one of my kids once said to me, “We are at odds.” However, those times pass and mostly we have fun together.
So, I compiled a list of things that seemed to have worked so far.
Some Ways to Grow Good Kids:
- Pray. This is the most important. If you do nothing else, do this. When I was staying home with young children, I prayed for one week of patience every Sunday. I assured God that I would be back the following week for another week’s worth, but instead of trying to handle the whole thing all at once, I took it in weeks.
I pray to be the mother they deserve. I know that I am one flawed lady and if left to myself, I will not do this mothering thing well. So I ask for the graces to be what they need a good mother to be and what they, as children of God, deserve. I need strength to make and keep hard decisions and to be firm yet loving.
I consecrated them to our Blessed Mother and pray for St. Monica’s intercession. St. Monica knew how to handle a challenge, so I know she can help when I’m convinced my child is straying. The Virgin Mary is our ultimate example of mothering. When I feel like I just can’t do it anymore, I throw that kid up to her and ask her to take over. She can do it much better than I.
Go to Mass together every Sunday. Even if there is a soccer game or people are grouchy. Go to Mass and gut it out if they are crying or fidgeting. It will get easier. Make sure they know that if they live in your house, they will attend Sunday Mass. No exceptions. Without a doubt, the nicest teens I know are the ones who are at Mass every Sunday even after they have been confirmed.
Pray together at home. There is a fair amount of complaining that gets rained down on me when I announce that we are going to do a family rosary, but by the time we are done, there are smiles and laughing. Every time.
- Like your kids. It’s not enough to love them. You need to like them. This is not just loving someone but not liking his behavior. This is genuinely liking your children. Let them know both directly and indirectly. Example: there’s no school on Friday. Is your reaction that of frustration because you have to have kids in the house, or are you happy because you get to have kids in the house? The difference is liking your kids, and they know whether you are glad to be around them or annoyed.
- Keep holy the supper. Wait for dinner until everyone gets home, even if it is 7:30 p.m. or later. If you can’t regularly get your family around the dinner table, there is too much going on, and it may be a good idea to prune some stuff back. While you are eating, talk to your kids and listen to what they have to say. Their opinions may be based in flawed logic, but listen and ask questions. Recognize that you can learn from them. Don’t be afraid to discuss the difficult topics. Put it out there so it’s not taboo. Talking about STDs and heroin at the dinner table may be weird, but these are things that need to be addressed.
- Wear your baby all the time for the first 12 to 14 weeks. You cannot spoil a newborn. It will hurt. You will ache. But your child will develop a sense of security and trust and closeness that will continue as she gets older.
- Don’t take guff from them. From the time they can string together a sentence to the day they move out, they will throw stuff out there that is insensitive, disrespectful and sometimes just mean. Your job as the parent is to mold irrational, sometimes hormonally crazed people into civilized human beings. This requires you to gird yourself and call the proverbial spade a spade. If they are being nasty, don’t put up with it. We’ve all heard kids say appalling things and wondered why their dazed parents didn’t respond. Ignoring this behavior will not cause the child to have an epiphany: “Oh, Mom is ignoring me, I shouldn’t say she’s a stupid head.” Nope. When your children speak disrespectfully to you or anyone, your job is to jump in and let them know that is not acceptable and there will be consequences.
- Love their father and let them see it. Keep your marriage healthy. Don’t lose the relationship because of the crazy of child rearing. Let them see you having fun with each other and valuing each other. Speak highly of your husband to them when he is not around.
- Make them responsible. You don’t have to do everything for them, and if you do, you are depriving them of the chance to learn to take care of themselves, which really is the end goal here. A first grader can make his own lunch. If you’re worried about what he might put in it, supervise. A middle schooler can wash his own clothes if he needs something cleaned and it’s not laundry day. Teens can go to the store to pick up supplies. They can do a lot. Teach them how and then get out of the way.
- Apologize when you mess up, because you will mess up. Be humble. Admit you made a mistake and ask for forgiveness. This models the behavior you want from them and shows them you respect them.
- Create an identity. We are Fredianis. We never win raffles. We have inappropriate dinner conversations and play Sheepshead like fiends. We have created an identity as a family that unites us and defines us. I tell my children to look around the table because those are the people they will always be able to rely on in life.
We are not a flawless family. We do and say stupid stuff but, at the core, we love each other and like spending time together. Sometimes they growl at me and sometimes I snap back. Other times we laugh like mad. Growing good kids isn’t impossible, but it does take intention and work. If you have any tips that work for your family, please share them.