Don’t take it personally!
If there was ever a time that you’ll feel like throwing a right royal tantrum that would be it.
It’s a dangerous position for someone to put themselves in, giving that sort of advice to a woman who has dedicated the last 20 or so years to raising kids, supporting her husband through his magnificent career and putting every interest of her own on the back burner.
Mind you if they are saying it from a safe distance of say, 3000 miles, then I guess parenting at that distance is likely to be quite a bit easier than on the front line. I’m only guessing though.
Not to mention that those beautiful munchkins that you nurtured through every school drama, childhood illness, wakeful and vomitus nights, hospitalisations, colds, flus, bullies, winter sports, who now threaten you with your very life when you show your face in your own home, don’t have a shred of respect for the commitment, career and life sacrifices you’ve made to raise them.
And then there’s the financial stress that goes hand in hand with career interruptions and separation, and meeting their every need b.f. (before feral).
It’s not surprising that you’ll feel resentful and maybe just a little bit grumpy… or a lot!
You’re looking forward and your looking back and suddenly you’re mind is full of expletives that until now you’ve carefully kept under control.
Here’s the thing. You’ve derived your satisfaction with life, your self-esteem and your relationship needs, all primary needs, from the great parenting job you were doing as well as the awesome lifestyle you accomplished as a result of the success of your husband or partner, achieved with your dedicated support.
Now much or all of that is evaporating, and you’re left wondering what happened as the rug is pulled from under your feet. Don’t despair. Well, yeah, despair for a little while. You’ve earned it!
Guilt can be a killer if you find yourself sifting through all the things that could have gone wrong, or that you feel you could have done better or differently.
When you’re ready to get back on track, here are few suggestions learned the hard way, through experience, by most women who have gone before you.
Your parenting at this time has to change
With no time to prep, those munchkins of yours turned to adolescents overnight, so take some time now to think it through. You’re called to move from parenting children to parenting young people transitioning into adulthood. It’s likely to be fraught with ambiguity and inconsistency and crazy making, and nothing like you expected.
As a first step, you might want to consider your boundaries in light of the sort of woman that you want your children to be or engage with as adults, and role model that woman. Sometimes that's all you’ve got to work with.
Adolescents will push hard against those boundaries. Standing firm, and flexible when the need arises, is an art form you will want to learn and master. See below for links to other resources.
A new interest will provide a much needed respite
You’ll find that it’s darn near impossible to escape back to your career. The goal posts have shifted, the career path has dissolved into the ether and there’s no way back. So while you work out where to with that idea, look for other ways to restore a sense of achievement.
It might be a good time to start a new project that doesn’t consume all your time and energy. Those adolescents still need your security to anchor them as they explore the wild side.
Or you could consider a Marshall art as a form of strength building, as well as a meditative practice because, you know, adolescents. The stronger you feel physically and mentally, the more robust your wit and imagination will be to combat the b.s. you’re confronted with on a daily basis, and it may help to release some of the pent up energy accompanying those expletives I spoke of earlier.
Connect with other supportive relationships
You’ve obviously needed to focus almost entirely on the needs of your nuclear family until now. Take this opportunity to nurture additional relationships to help you feel connected when the chips are down at home.
Connect with old friends, spend more time with your family of origin, or join special interest groups. This is about connecting with supportive, caring people, especially important if you are parenting solo, to fill up your cup so that you have the energy and emotional resources to continue to parent during this difficult time.
Make peace with old inner conflicts
Finally, this is a time for self-reflection. Much of the uncomfortable stuff that surfaces for you is going to be related to unresolved inner conflicts that you hoped would have resolved by years of ignoring them.
The best thing I ever did was put myself into therapy at this time. It helped me to work through habitual and unhelpful responses and reactions that were loaded with family beliefs and expectations that I didn’t realise I was signalling.
In my experience it was all about getting on with life, making do, toughen up, growing a backbone… you know the drill. Well, be that as it may, that wasn’t meeting my family’s needs and caused more conflict than it resolved. Noticing these patterns enabled me to reach out to meet existing needs instead of resisting.
With this sort of help from a therapist it can become easier to navigate those adolescent years and provide the support that your family needs.
Midlife with adolescents can feel like the last gasp
Let’s recap. You’re family relationships are rocky, you’re not about to receive any acknowledgement for your commitment anytime soon, your career has dissolved and your financial stability is shaky. Welcome to womanhood in midlife.
Refocussing your parenting role is a big part of navigating this @#&^% awful time. Finding novel ways to distract yourself and rebuild your self-esteem may be just the thing to help you access your resilience for parenting during these deplorable years. (Is there any other way to describe them?) Connecting with a supportive team of friends, family, and a therapist if needed, will ease the way forward.
If you can achieve this and maintain the family foundations that you’ve spent a lifetime building, you’ll have a good chance of getting through this period in pretty good shape. Good luck!
Links to more resources for parenting adolescents below.
Published first on Linked In
For advice on parenting adolescents:
Kids Health Organisation
Australian Institute of Family Studies
Adapting to the Changing Needs of Adolescents: Parenting Practices and Challenges to Sensitive Attunement
MIT Raising Teens - 5 basics
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