The Instruction Manual for Raising Teens

Made you laugh, right? Gave you a glimmer of hope? Your little fingers couldn’t click on the title fast enough, thinking, “FINALLY! Life will make sense! HELP ME!”

Yeah, me too.

Because once upon a time, in a land not-so-far away, I was raising two precious little girls called The Adorables. And when well-meaning people raised their eyebrows and said, “They sure are cute, but just wait until they’re teenagers”; I was smug. They’ll never be difficult, I told myself. Other people just don’t have MY KIDS, bless their hearts. Mine will be different.

I fell asleep one day to this.


And woke up to this.


A teen and a pre-teen who basically look at me daily like.


And so it began. The push and pull between letting them grow into their own personhood without trying to recreate my own life vicariously. This list has a little scientific backing, some trial and error, but mostly – the life lessons handed to me by parents who raised teenagers to adulthood, teenagers who discuss their experiences and observation of teenagers in their natural habitat…social media.

one:    My teenagers are NOT me
Let’s all take a moment to thank the LORD for that. Without listing all the ways I was not a good teenager, I try not to immediately assume they’re doing what I was doing at their age. I make effort to view each situation through a brand-new lense.


two:    Talking TO them more than talking AT them
Ohhh, the struggle. Because after a long day of working, laundry, cooking, driving; when I find my hairbrush missing after buying FOUR brushes to thwart ways I can lose my mind, I’m livid. Not even years of psychology book work can stop me. But my kids often ask, “Mom, why can’t you ask where the brush is instead of assuming we moved it?” And, on some occasions, I’m the one who moved it. Oops.

three:    Being their friend
I won’t be the friend who supplies alcohol or allows boys to sleep over or keeps dangerous secrets for their friends. I won’t be their friend because I’m fearful of losing their affection. I will cultivate adult relationships to meet my emotional needs. But I will be their friend who has fun with them, acts silly with them and lets them know I’m human. Because in the toughest of times, when the really hard choices arise, I want to be their first call.


four:    Manage my poker face
But when I’m the first call, or the “Mom I need to tell you something,” I have to work on managing my reaction. I DON’T WANT MY TEENS TO ATTEND PARTIES. I don’t want them to drink alcohol, ever. I want them to be perfect angels with shiny halos and super-soft wings. But if and when the halo slips, I must remember that my reaction will determine their next move. Do I want them to lie so I feel comfortable, or do I want the hard truth?

five:    I want to say YES
As one of my favorite mom-to-teens author Jen Hatmaker says, SAY YES OFTEN. I say yes to experiences and relationships. Yes, your friends can come over. Yes, I’ll drive all of you to the football game. Yes, I’ll cook dinner for the neighbor kids. Yes, your friend can road trip with us. Yes, I’ll buy you makeup and hair paint for spirit day. Yes, I’ll help you dress up to see Mustang beat Yukon. YES, YES, YES. Simply put, my relationships have saved me from drowning many times. I want to help them develop their own saving grace.


six:    I need to say NO
I underestimated the most important aspect of raising teens and that is, SAYING NO. It destroys me when they dislike me. I lose sleep when they’re mad at me. But if I don’t teach them the word no, what will life look like for them? I’ve learned the importance of telling them no, meaning no, sticking with no when they argue AND teaching them how to say no. Teaching them to accept no from others. This lesson alone has worn me slick out, but I know one day the payoff will come.

seven:    Teaching them consequences
This one sounds a little like this. “Look. If you act like a spoiled brat, people don’t want to be in relationships with you. Not friendships, not romantic unions, not professional partnerships. You can behave like a diva and be difficult, but the price is isolation or forced interactions.”


eight:    BOUNDARIES
Girls, boys aren’t allowed to make disrespectful and sexual comments to you. I don’t care if you’re wearing a bikini or a moo-moo, they’re not allowed. Why? Because you’re going to tell them it’s not allowed. Your friends aren’t allowed to treat you terrible. Why? Because you’re going to tell them it’s not allowed. You’re going to gently and fairly communicate your truth, and the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Here’s the tricky part: You’re not allowed to trample others, either

nine:    Giving grace and mercy
In college, I learned that a brain isn’t fully developed until the early twenties. EARLY TWENTIES. Which means, these girls literally aren’t playing with a full deck. And yet, sometimes I hear myself lecturing and laying out expectations for things that took me 39 years to learn. The most difficult part of parenting for me is remembering that I am a teacher, not a dictator. One gets results and the other commands with fear. Please let me never be so concerned with image or what others think that I neglect the souls I’m entrusted with shaping. Please let me never expect feats of them that I, myself, cannot accomplish.


ten:    There isn’t a manual
I respect 8,978 parents who are raising or have raised incredible kids. They all used a different method. The manual, I’ve learned, is experience. Others’ experiences. My own experiences. My kids’ friend’s experiences. Listening. Learning. Being open-minded and flexible. Apologizing. Starting over. Sometimes several times in the same day.

What would YOU add to this list?






I’ve read this message a thousand times.


I scroll back up through several Facebook instant messages. We discuss our lives, our kids, make promises to get together. Let’s do lunch, I type. I’m really busy right now with kids, work and school, but soon, I promise!

Maybe I fooled myself into believing that with enough distraction, the truth would fade. The truth that hours earlier, she took her own life with a gun. Could I have saved her?

I walked nervously into the funeral home. Strolled past all the people. Into the dimly lit room. I took a deep breath and peeked into the casket. Walked closer. Ran my finger down her cold cheek attached to the beautiful face I had envied countless times 14 years earlier.

“Do I have any cellulite on my butt? You guys, I’m SERIOUS!” She looked over her shoulder at us, flashing that million-dollar smile. Standing on the beach of Lake Arcadia in a little black bikini, she looked like a girl who worked out as much as she breathed. The only thing more flawless than her face was her round little cellulite-less bum. I tried to work out with her once, actually, and on our third lap around the track with HEAVY dumbbells – I quit.

One more reason to try and hate her. She was annoyingly close to perfection.

We were playing house back then, at 19-years old. Our boyfriends were best friends, we both moved in, and some of the most fun years of my life ensued. There were ski trips and late-night rollerblading sessions with enough debauchery mixed in to keep things interesting.

But she didn’t participate in any debauchery. While I was sleeping off a hangover most days, she was up before the sun. Going to work, going to school, working out, cooking and cleaning. Reminding all of us to clean up after ourselves. Mothering her younger sister, spending time with her grandma and mom. Her overachieving highlighted my chaos, and I didn’t like her much of the time.

Until one night, she drank with us. Two beers and she was lit. We sat on the couch laughing at the antics of our wild boyfriends, and she mentioned being raised by her grandma. My mom has been a drug addict and prostitute most of my life, she told me, with a look that said she wasn’t comfortable talking about it. But talk about it we did, until the wee hours of the morning. I understood her. Finally. This is why. She’s determined to break the cycle.

I never pressured her to drink with us after that.

As most chapters do, ours closed and we lost touch. Until one day I received a random message from her on Facebook 14 years later. My, how our lives had changed.

I rested my hand on her cold face for what seemed like hours. The regret. So heavy.

I talked with her grandma. The depression had taken over, as I knew from our messages. Swallowed her whole. Most days, she couldn’t get out of bed. Ashamed of her new appearance. Struggling to raise her young daughter. Lost everything she worked so hard for all those years. It was difficult to compose myself as I said, “I meant to go see her. To hug her. Tell her in person how I remembered her. That it wasn’t too late to get it back.”

But I was busy. Work, school, kids, I’ll call you when things calm down.

Suicide is never selfish. She wasn’t selfish. She was wounded. We convince ourselves that the wounds close up, and then one day, they appear in the form of a big, black cloud called depression that follows us. There’s no escaping. It lies. Kills our joy. Twists reality. Some claw out, but others, bless their souls, they believe the world would be brighter if they snuff out.

The past cannot be changed. The world keeps moving. But one day, when that little girl is old enough to understand, I’m going to find her and tell her all about her mother. That’s how I will close my wound.

RIP, beautiful girl.