Getting through the difficult parenting years
I recently had a friend and mom of teens tell me that she and her husband were experiencing some of the most difficult years of their married life, largely she felt, as a result of parenting teens.
"Whatever the stresses of little ones," she said, "that was easy compared to what teens can do to you!" She was exasperated.
Being single with kids "just barely teens" and younger, my struggles are a bit different (dating with that portfolio is particularly interesting!) but there's no question that the teen years present challenges to parents and their relationships with each other. Only, it seems all the talk about teens, all the advice about teens, all the suggestions about teens focuses on, well, teens.
What about mom and dad and their relationship?
"Dr. Paul" to the rescue. Dr. Paul is a longtime minister and trained therapist, and he currently heads "Insight Christian Counseling" (insightcounsel.org) outside of Philadelphia. I recently interviewed him on my radio show. A frequent speaker on family issues around the country, he told me his most popular talk is "Enjoying the Toughest Years of Your Marriage" -- meaning, the teen years. He says he got the idea to focus on this issue because he had so many people coming to see him for just this struggle, and he had seen too many marriages fall apart after the kids leave home in what should finally be some of the most rewarding years of marriage.
The statistics bear this out: overall rates of divorce have dropped about a percent and a half in the last 10 years, but risen by 16 percent in the "married 30 years or more" category.
Houston, we have a problem.
Paul notes that the reason the years of raising teens can be so difficult on a marriage is that the energy spent on teens and their problems and issues -- dating, what college, driving, school, friends, dealing with them as they become more independent, let alone the possibility of drugs, sex or other major fears -- often leave parents with little emotional reserve for each other. Minor irritations between spouses might now become big irritations.
Sleep deprivation in the early years of babies and toddlers is easier to handle than sleep deprivation because you are (nervously) waiting for a teen to get home at night, always wondering if it's safer for him to drive or be driven by a friend. Moreover, he notes, even if teens are home they are staying up much later, and that often deprives parents of evening hours alone for physical or just emotional intimacy.
These are the years when children's activities and sports may cram the family schedule in a way not seen in previous generations. Add to that the increasingly common burden of taking care of one's own elderly parents. And if a couple has long unresolved grudges or resentments, they become worse.
I think, and Paul agrees, that so many parents now spend their married lives focused on their kids and making sure they are anything but "wonderfully average," that they've created an overly child-centered home -- and naturally it's hard to shift back to mom and dad when the kids aren't there anymore
The best insight from Dr. Paul? That too many parents mistakenly think, "if we can just weather these difficult teen years, our relationship will get back on track when they are over."
Paul said not only is that often not possible, but then too many married couples miss a chance to enjoy that time in their marriage. He says the time to start "weathering" the teen years is long before they hit! He also has great suggestions for folks who are already in the middle of those years and the struggles they bring.
-- Hart hosts the "It Takes a Parent" radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago.