Parenting Teens: The Art of Letting Go

Parenting Teens: The Art of Letting Go

Having run an elementary and middle school, I’ve spent years observing the process of growing up.  I’ve also supported parents in their journey each step of the way, which left me feeling like I had a keen sense of how the parent-child relationship worked.

As my own kids are now surpassing the age of my perceived expertise, I find myself seeking guidance from the parents who survived the teenage years unscathed. (If there’s such a thing!) You know the saying- the cobbler’s kids have no shoes…

Spring brought the first of it– the undeniable shift from child to teen.  It arrived unexpectedly, furiously, with no clear warning, despite the age, and all obvious signs. (Not my child!)

My innocent child became more confident, more confrontational. More hungry, more distant. More independent, more defiant.

Gone were the nighttime snuggles and secrets.
Gone were the homework sessions completed (obediently!) with care.
Gone was my control.

Spring was turbulent. I hadn’t expected the changes (really!?), so I responded with fear– a sure fire way to screw everything up.

I was hanging on to any control I had (which was not much). My relationship with my teen turned from one of my greatest joys to one that ached of loss. We were fighting, and frustrated– and nobody was backing down.

One day, lightning quick, I jolted back to reality. I was not the parent I wanted to be, nor one that I recognized.  I realized that if I wanted to maintain the trust I’d worked so hard to build, I needed to grow along with my child.

I had a list of needs that were all my own, and not his.

I need to let go of control.
I need to trust the child I raised.
I need to accept that he is changing.
I need to let go of control.
I need to remember he’ll come back to me.
I need to stop nagging.
I need to let go of control.
I need to let him make mistakes.
I need to support him when he falls.
I need to let go of control.
I need friends to talk to.
I need to appreciate who he’s becoming.
I need to let go of control.
I need be calm.
I need to walk away when I need a break.
I need to let go of control.

In that sharp, transformative instant, I let go.

He is thirteen, and we have many years to go–but in small, comforting ways, this turmoil has rewarded us.

When I am calm, he has guidance.
When I walk away, he takes a pause.
When I support him, he has something to stand on.
When I stop nagging, he hears me.
When I trust him, he rises to the occasion.
When I accept him, he shares his world with me.
When I let go of control, we’re in it together.

It may not be exactly how I planned/imagined/engineered it– but it’s better than the alternative.

The following linked article inspired this post, which I’ve wanted to write about for a while. I wish I’d read it before the (invasion of the) body snatchers came to take my child– it’s insightful, straightforward, and all-too-accurate. I imagine it wouldn’t have had the same impact then as it does now–but I’m ever so glad that I read it.

Four Things To Do If You Have A Kid Going Into Middle School

Take heed– your child will change. It’s going to be quick, furious, and undeniable. And it’s going to be harder than you ever imagined.

Letting go is what kids are designed to do. If we do it right as parents, we’re supposed to let go, too.

Mother and son.


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48 thoughts on “Parenting Teens: The Art of Letting Go

  1. Oh boy… I”m not looking forward to my twins becoming teens. Mine are 9, so I have a little time, whew!! thank you for giving me a lot to think of and prepare for 😉

  2. This is true and may be really hard for some parents. I can’t speak one for myself since I still do not have a teenager but I appreciate reading this for the future. Thank you for sharing these.

  3. These sound like great tips. I have a ways to go before we’re in the teens, but I love this advice!

  4. The teen years are tough! It’s funny because when babies are newborn, it is so hard with the lack of sleep and constant feedings etc. I feel like every year is a different set of challenges. I hear you about learning to let go.

  5. my kids – one is a teen and the other a tween pretending to be a teen – so i get ya… it is a challenge to handle the changes but it is still all so wonderful 🙂

  6. My oldest is slowly on her way to the teen years and I am not looking forward to it, But I think we will come out just fine! No matter how much we know there is always something new to learn.

  7. Thank you for this article! I completely understand the distant and and defiant — it is sad and scary at the same time. When I read your list of needs it brought tears. Thank you for sharing your heart and opening my eyes. I’ll be saving this one!

  8. I don’t have children yet, but I am helping my single mom Sister raising my Nephew who is now in his teenage year..this post resonates a lot with what my Sister is going through, as I am sure with many moms out there too..thank you for writing this, worth to share 🙂

  9. As someone who was more than a handful as a teen, your approach sounds perfect to me. I wish my Mother had done what you are.

  10. Oh that would be so hard! My chest feels tight thinking about it and we don’t even have children yet! ha!

  11. I have a 14 year old daughter who is challenging every day considering I have a 19 year old who did not challenge us at all. Two completely different personalities At a point you almost have to surrender and hope you did your best with them. Great read.

  12. Ugh, parenting isn’t for wimps. It’s hard to raise them but I think it’s harder still to release them into the world. Parenting is the only job where you work yourself out of a job. Thanks for sharing this tough, heartfelt experience.

  13. I love your list of “When I… then he”. So true and so hard to put into practice! Excellent reminders to trust the results before they happen, and let go. Thank you!

  14. Wow! You both look lovely in the picture. It may take many years for me to relate to this post, but I can tell you for sure that many mothers out there are going to be thankful for this. Continue to inspire. 🙂

  15. I can finally relate to someone. Most of the time read blogs on small children and i been past that stage. I have two teens (well a tween) I have so much to teach them but now the are becoming their own people. I love your post. Keep it up.

  16. Aw it musn’t have been easy to let go. But it’s part of the growing and parenting experience.

  17. My son is only a year old, so I still have a bit until we reach the teenage years. However, I know that time will fly by, and I’m sure I will face many of the same struggles you did with coming to terms with giving up control.

  18. Excellent post! I have an almost 2-year-old and I’m already frightened by the thought of him growing up.

  19. My kiddos are 10 and 8, so they are quickly approaching the teenage years. Although I’m nervous about these impending years, I also look forward to them. I love how you say, “I needed to grow along with my child” I am going to remember this for when the kids get to this ever-changing age. I think you’ve nailed it with this post, reminding all of us parents who haven’t experienced this yet, that although we may be frustrated with our children, who are changing and growing beyond our control, we are the parents and must try to support and grow along with them. Once again, an awesome article you’ve crafted here.

  20. Being the mother of two teenagers, I could probably relate to each word, each sentence, each paragraph!! Specially my son became so distant and so detached that it hurts! I know this too will pass ..but really miss that chubby, sweet younger version.

  21. I can relate to many of these with my 14 ur old son

  22. I thought 17 was the worst year. My mom would say that the kids were acting that way so that I would want them to move out and go away to college. She was right.

  23. Great tips for parents seeking to improve relationships with teens. Learning to let go helps so much m.

  24. Raising kids isn’t easy! But this is a great article, especially the part about “when I do this, he does this.” Great advice!

  25. Traveling with Ashleigh February 6, 2019 — 8:22 am

    This is really interesting to read. I know quite a few parents (from my friends) that still continue to struggling with letting them grow up

  26. I had a teenage sister and I learned that I had to let go of “parenting” her (I know she was my sister, but she was 9 years young and I was like her second mom) and let her fail and succeed by herself. It was hard but she did it.

  27. When kids enter the teen years they start feeling like they are adults and that they know what is best for them, and will challenge you, some not all children, it depends on the personality and everything, but each one of us was a teen and we mustn’t forget that, the biggest challenge is showing them that everything you do is for their own good, you want them to be safe, and you want them to grow up to be their own people.

  28. I have a 13 year old. Letting go is hard. Especially when he picks out weird combinations of clothing. Lol

  29. Don’t have kids yet, but I can honestly say that THIS phase is the scariest one to me, cuz I remember just how angsty I was as a teen, and I don’t wish that on anyone. Kids grow up so fast, and I think it’s natural to want to continue being there for them constantly and trying to do things for them. When they get to the age where they’re trying to figure out who they are, and they don’t necessarily want your input or assistance all the time, that’s gotta be tough. You seem like you have it under control, and he’s a strong looking young man!

  30. That is life and we can’t do anything about it. I don’t have a teenager yet, but I totally understand that they will soon have their lives to live, and keeping them grounded before teenage years will help them when they get there.
    I used to think I will stay out all night partying during my teenage years, but anything after 9 pm became awkward to me, even still in my 40’s.

  31. As one with a junior and 2nd grader, this is so true. There are so many adjustments to your parenting style from when they are little to becoming a teen, and eventually when they are graduating high school and becoming an adult.

  32. What a beautiful post about the reality of raising teenagers. I teach fifth grade and would love to share this with the parents of my students. They’re about to embark on this journey themselves. Thank you!

  33. Parenting is such a difficult task that we can all learn from each other & benefit.

  34. This is great advice! No kids yet, but I hope that I have the strength to realize when my kids have reached the age that they really need to learn and experience things for themselves (and that I need to back off some).

  35. Great article! My oldest turns 30 this year and i truly miss my girls being young. We have difficult moments but I would go back and relive all of them in a heartbeat some days. When they cross to the adult stage, you will have created a friend as well as a child by letting go of so much control. Good that you saw that early enough to put it to use. Enjoy your journey with them.

  36. Neil Alvin Nicerio February 6, 2019 — 9:48 pm

    Oh gosh, I think it’s going to be hard for me to let go of my daughter. 🙁

  37. I needed this at this exact moment. Picked my teenage daughter up tonight and my head was bitten off. Going to print and put up at my desk. Shared with my friends too. Thank you!

  38. This just broke my heart a little bit, and reminded me to snuggle my baby boys a little tighter tonight.

  39. I always hear these crazy stories of sweet sweet kids when they get to teenage hood, but if there is one thing that I have got from your experience is letting go and trusting the way you raised your kid. so many pointers.

  40. My oldest is almost 10 and he appears to be an early bloomer 🙈. Seriously, his skin has already started breaking out! I was in no way prepared for the sudden shift in hormones. Thanks for letting me know we are all in for the same sudden, crazy shift into teen years!

  41. Is that confident looking young man in the photo your son? He looks ready to take on the world and in a good way. I found that encouraging my kids to do their thing while checking in with them in their teen years made a huge difference. It reminded me of my teen years… and I was the ultimate rebel. Haha. 🙂

  42. Good luck and keep going. Parenting is always tough especially when children reaches their teen age. They will show sudden changes. Control them with love. Hope you are fine. Thanks for sharing.

  43. That time of life when everything you do seems to be going south! Great article!

  44. Many parents struggles of tis situation. In Japan, they have this old sayings, “Kawaii ko ni wa tabi o saseyo” which means “Send the beloved child on a journey.” This old saying teaches parents to let go of their kids and learn on their own adventure.

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