The one thing I have learned about parenting, particularly about parenting teens – we can’t do it alone.   The support of others, advice, guidance, wisdom – it is what gets me through this challenging (and of course, often highly rewarding!!) time.

I so appreciate my new friend Lorraine Sims thought provoking essay which she gave me permission to share:


by Lorraine Sims

I write this as a parent who has experienced the turmoil of adolescence, and as a friend who has listened to the frustrations and solutions of many other parents.

Raising a Child to Adulthood

            I am sure there are millions of families who breeze through adolescence smoothly and gracefully.  But I’ve never met one.

As parents, we are not properly prepared to guide our teens through this difficult period as they struggle for their independence, while still being dependent on us.

Our modern society has forgotten how to know when our young have grown up, have reached adulthood, and are ready to leave home.  In our human culture, we fail to recognize the right time.  We either push our young out too soon, out of anger and frustration, or we hold onto them too long, out of fear and worry, turning them into 30-year old boys or 40 year old spinsters.

In the animal world, the lioness and the bear will teach their cubs to hunt for food, to protect themselves from predators, and to guard their territory from invaders.  When the young have competently demonstrated to the parents that they can fend for themselves, the parents will release them unto their own resources.

Birds build their nests with sticks pointed upwards toward the nesting chicks.  When the chick becomes a certain weight, the sticks begin to prick into the bird’s underbelly, making it uncomfortable to remain in the nest.  With each passing day, and increasing weight, the chick gradually leaves the nest, and the parents teach the young to fly.

Perhaps we should place sticks in our teen’s mattress and, when they reach 120 lbs and complain of stinging sheets, we will know that ‘it is time’.

The signs are evident when our young are ready for independence and to fly the coop.  It occurs naturally in their teens at 15, 16 or 17.  They evolve naturally – it is in their nature.  There is a gestation period of childhood, of adolescence, which transforms into adulthood.  The signs are often frustration and anger.  They want to fly free.  But if we are not confident that we have done enough to prepare them to fend for themselves, we clip their wings and restrict their freedom.

The natural shift has taken place within them, and now the shift must take place in us. We must see that it is time to let go.  Not to let go of


or care

or protection,

but to let go of control.

It is most difficult for us, as parents.   We have been controlling their every waking moment since the day they were born.  We have invested 15 or 16 years in our child.  Our blood, sweat and tears are in that teenager.  We won’t readily give that up.  There is a big part of us in our teen, and if we let go, it’s like loosing part of ourselves.

We are not confident that they are ready to be responsible for themselves – to protect themselves from predators, to create their own earnings and to secure their own homes.  We blame ourselves for not teaching them how to be fully independent, to be respectful of others, to ensure self-protection, and be responsible for themselves.

But they must learn on their own now.  They are ready to graduate to a bigger classroom in which they learn life skills and life lessons.

When they are ready, but we are not, it can become dangerous.  We push them out into the world, or hold them down and restrain them.

The shift for parents is very difficult.  We fear loneliness and abandonment when our children leave us. But, we must recognize that it is a natural part of the human condition.  We will survive and, in fact, will also embark on a period of transition, for this is a new freedom for us as well.

The shift begins with the acknowledgement that we have done the best that we could with the resources we had.  And, in the moments of happiness and joy, and the love and care we instilled in them, we prepared them to be full and whole human beings.  We must look deeper into ourselves and into our teens to see the good and the great that we have instilled within them.

While I have not met a family who breezed through adolescence gracefully, I have read that adolescence is a calm and smooth transition in indigenous cultures.

There are many factors contributing to this:

–     natural food that contains no chemicals which alter behaviour.

–     no outside influences pressuring the teens to look or be false in any way.

–       a whole village to raise a child with support from elders and community to guide and love the young.

–       an understanding and comfort in knowing that, at every age, the family will remain together – they are not raised by two absent-working parents, or a struggling single parent, and do not send their grandparents parents away to old age homes, or their children to foster families.

Here in North America, our culture is very different – our parents and grandparents immigrated from Europe – creating an independent culture – one that breaks from family in search of new adventures, new territories, and a better life in which to raise children.  This independence is infused into our psyches, our families, cultures and nations.

When a teen’s fight for independence begins, we as parents become scared and frustrated.  We forget that it is in our nature to strive for independence and to quest for freedom.  But we haven’t been taught how to handle ourselves or our teens when they:

–       stay out too late

–       shrug off their responsibilities

–       skip classes

–       achieve low grades

–       display a rebellious attitude

–       don’t even seem to know when to put on a warm coat, find their keys or clean their own environment.

–       begin to taste liquor and drugs

–       become involved with ‘new’ friends who may lure them into criminal activity

–       become disrespectful to us and others in authority

We get upset with ourselves because we think we have failed in our parental duties.  In an effort to ward off the dangers or enforce ‘correct’ behaviors, we put tighter controls on them to protect them, prevent them from making mistakes or punish them.  But punishment does not change behaviour, it only changes the relationship with the punisher.  And not for the better.  We know this from our own experience, but keep perpetuating the damage, due to a lack of new strategies.  Afterall, we learned our parenting techniques from our own parents, and we know that their methods were flawed.

When our teens say they don’t feel trusted or respected by us, we talk louder and over them to assert that we are right.  Afterall, we have 25 – 35 more years of life experience than they do, so we must be right.  In facts, perhaps, but not in feelings and insights.

The right to express feelings, the right to be heard, acknowledged and validated, outweigh the need to be right.

When our teens become so exasperated with our rules, our restrictions, our punishment, our unjust conditions, and misguided good intentions, they have difficulty processing it all and don’t know how to respond, through lack of life experience.  They resort to what they know, and what has worked in the past; they yell and scream and slam the door to express their frustration.

Then, in a moment of fury and in the absence of any new parenting skills, we revert back to our old methods that worked 10 years ago – we treat our teens like children.  We threaten to hold their belongings hostage or we damage their possessions as a way to demonstrate our might and authority.  And it backfires.  It ignites a raging battle.

We demonstrate our supremacy by punishing with cruelty, withholding our love, forbidding their planned activities, and by confiscating their belongings – those treasured items that connect them to their life source and a sense of belonging.  We take away their


their computers,

their life lines to others

their tools for creative expression and healing

their art supplies

their musical instruments

their scientific instruments

and their sports equipment

We take what is not ours.  We behave like children.

Not only do we steal their belongings, we often steal their dreams.  In our misguided intentions to ‘steer them in the right direction; for their own good’, we push them off their natural path, and forget the guiding principle of child-rearing:

Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.


Inherent in each child and adult is their natural talent, their highest potential and their greatest contribution to the world.  These inborn qualities match perfectly with each individual’s greatest joy and biggest dream.  When we rob our children of their right to pursue their dreams, we create great internal distress that can result in hostile external problems.  Frustrations emerge and struggling behaviours surface.  This, too, can result in yelling, screaming and even violence (if violence was experienced in childhood).


So how do we break this stalemate of behaving like children and treating our teens like children?  How do we proceed now that both the parents and the children are adults?  How do we live together and evolve into this new relationship?

Here is the crux of it:  Even though both we and our children are now adults, only we are the parents.  We are the ones responsible for demonstrating maturity.  It is up to us to end the cycle of anger and frustration, and show a higher wisdom.  We must take the higher road – unconditional love.

This doesn’t mean that we condone or support any of their troublesome behaviors; it means that we release them and allow them to learn for themselves.  It means we let them go.

To let them go does not mean we abandon them or push them away.

To let them go does not mean we give up or stop caring.

To let them go means we trust that our teens will be safe and responsible.

To let them go means that we, as parents, believe we have done our best to instill moral values and compassionate qualities in our children.

To let them go means we release our tight grip.

To let them go means we ease the tight pain in our hearts.

To let them go means we allow them to make mistakes.

To let them go means we express our love – without condition.

Even when the evidence shows us that our teens have not learned how to be respectful, how to be caring or how to be responsible, we must let our adult children go – with love.  When we let our adult children go, they feel the release, they sense the freedom and this gives them an opportunity to grow and mature.  Our release must come first.  We often say that we will treat them like adults when they behave like adults, but this perpetuates the cycle of frustration.  It is our responsibility, as parents, to initiate the new cycle, by letting them go and letting them grow.

It takes great strength and courage to raise a child to adulthood.  It takes physical strength, emotional wellbeing, mental acuity, and spiritual love.  Adolescence is an opportunity for our children to grow up and for us to mature.   In the experience of adolescence, our learning curve usually peaks with our first child.  After we have experienced it once, we are much wiser the second time.

There is an adjustment period.  It may take a year of gradual release, trust, and then even a feeling of happiness that they are experiencing the world on their terms.  It doesn’t mean they move out of the house; it means that they move out of the way of our control.

The best way – the only way – to ensure our grandchildren grow up happy, healthy and wise – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, is to ensure our children grow up happy, healthy and wise.

Lorraine Sims,

Mother of two teenage children

March 22, 2012