A Guide for Surviving Life with Teens

The word “teenager” comes from the Latin and means Messy Bathroom

“a puddle of hormonally unbalanced moods, angst, disobedience, rolling eyes and sarcasm incapable of hanging up a single item of clothing or taking a shower that doesn’t drain Lake Superior.”  Latin is a remarkably succinct, although dead, language.  (Confession:  “teen” doesn’t really come from the Latin, as far as I know, but I definitely did not make up the definition.)

My husband and I live with two teenage girls.  All condolences and commiserations gratefully accepted.  A special set of skills is required to survive the experience.  I’ve developed them gradually over the past few years and have some small hope of retaining a shred of sanity until my youngest departs for college in two and a half years.  (Why does that time frame sound akin to “as long as the last Ice Age?”)  Anyway, those of you whose children are still elementary school age, or tweens, still have time to develop the following Top Three teen survival skills.

  • Closing doors. This is literal, not figurative. Closing your teens’ bedroom and bathroom doors so you cannot see the drifts of clothes and towels strewn on the floor can cut your stress level in half. This weekend, I told my oldest that if she excavated the layers of school supplies, clothes, and miscellany on her floor, she might locate the lost city of Atlantis. She did not find this funny. True story.
  • Adopting a tag line to end all arguments. My youngest wants to know “why” every single time we ask her to do something. “Why do I have to make a salad tonight (when it has been my chore every night for four years)?” “Why do I have to hang up my wet towel instead of letting it mildew on the floor?” Recognize that these questions are not legitimate requests for information. They are ploys to wear you down so you abandon the very reasonable parental standards designed to ensure that your teens accept a little responsibility, and limit visits from the Department of Health and Sanitation. My standard answer is: “Because I am your mother and I said so.” Sometimes I vary it by saying, “Because I am capricious and sadistic and enjoy watching you work for ten whole minutes on a task of benefit to the entire family.” Obviously, you can modify your response to suit your personality and the situation; the key is to trot your closing line out quickly whenever your teen tries to engage you in one of these time-wasting, energy-draining discussions.
  • Disconnecting. I’m not referring to electronics (although I can make a case for that, too). I’m talking about disconnecting your emotions from your teen’s emotions. Unless you want to be checking in to the nearest Electroshock Treatment Facility for the Emotionally Exhausted and Clinically Cuckoo mid-way through your teen’s high school experience, you have to get some distance. It’s not your D in Chemistry. It’s not your first boyfriend burping “American the Beautiful” at your sweet sixteen party. It’s not you who didn’t make the team/land a part in the play/get asked to prom. You love your teen (despite their best efforts) and it’s hard not to be invested in their failures and successes. You just have to back off enough to let them own the experience and keep yourself from rocketing from euphoria to despair and back multiple times a day. Your sanity depends on it, as does your ability to give calm counsel, sympathy and support.

I’ll share more teen survival tips as I think of them.  Meanwhile, what’s the most useful thing you did, or are doing, to survive your kids’ teenage years?