Short Shorts and Mothering Teens

short shortsEDITOR’S NOTE: We are trying to keep our posts at The Power of Moms quite short (we know you’re busy!), but because we feel that this guest post from Sarah at Clover Lane  offers great perspectives  about raising teens, we decided to publish a longer version than is typical of what you’ll find on our site. Obviously, each mother of a teen will have a unique perspective and may parent differently than another, but as we’re here to help moms share ideas and learn from one another so that we can make the best decisions we possibly can as we raise our children.

Mothering teens.  You need a WHOLE different set of skills! It’s all so new and frustrating and scary and fun….just like when they hand you your first newborn, it’s so hard to describe to anyone that feeling.  I think in a way parenting starts all over again at the teen age.  It has been quite a learning experience for me and I have far to go. NOTHING, I’ll tell you, NOTHING humbles you like raising a teen.

Here’s a recent experience to demonstrate what I’m talking about.

I got this comment last week after I posted photos on my blog of our recent family vacation:

Do you sometimes think your daughter’s shorts are too short?

It made me laugh.  Actually the daughter in question was sitting at the computer when I read it and we both looked at each other and laughed together.

Because the answer is yes.  I do!  I  think my 15-year-old daughter’s shorts are a tad too short sometimes.  I also think she wears too much make up and doesn’t need one drop of it, so any is “too much” for me.  Haven’t all mothers said this?  I wish she wouldn’t get so stressed about school, and friend drama and sometimes I really wish she would not be so picky and particular on just about everything. And the only nail polish color I really like on girls that age is pink, and she likes yellow or blue or sometimes orange.

My daughter knows this.  Sometimes we argue about it and sometimes we downright battle about it.  It’s hard. I wish she would listen to everything I have to say and do exactly what I tell her to do all the time. She did when she was little.  We could go shopping and oooh and aaah over all the same stuff.  The matching tights, the cute colorful knit dresses.  Those red sparkly shoes and the cute pink tennies. We got along great all the time.  Because her opinion and my opinion matched perfectly.

In junior high we started clashing about little things.  Maybe it was at what age we would allow her to get her ears pierced.  Or why I had to be so strict about how high the heels were that she wanted to buy for 8th grade graduation…”everyone else” was wearing those high ones, why couldn’t she? We started getting angry at each other as she pushed and I pulled–as she exerted her opinion that was different from my opinion – yes, she had somehow developed her own, how the heck did that happen?

I held her back against the growing-up-too-fast pull as best as I could.  Oh, if only I could keep her in my world.  If only I could just say yes to everything she wanted because it was the same as what I wanted, it would all be so easy.  If only she would stay my young little girl forever.

Since then it’s been just like that…that push and pull.  We have both cried tears over the last years….over how darn hard and different it has been.  Me shedding tears of doubt – Am I doing this right?  Am I being too strict?  Should I have stuck to my guns?  Why oh why can’t she just trust that I know what is best for her?  And her with tears of frustration, anger, and just plain old hurt feelings.

When it comes to raising teenagers I think there are three roads to take.  Two are easy…and so tempting because you, as the mother, can always be happy and there is little or no conflict, tears, drama.

One is the route where anything they want is fine with you.  The drinking, the boyfriends, the hotel rooms rented at prom.  Rules are a pain, and being popular is the name of the game.  There is never a fight because who wants to fight? “Yes,” is your answer, “sure go ahead honey, we’re best friends right?” You turn your head or laugh and say, “Teenagers will be teenagers, what can I do about it?”

The other end of the spectrum is just the opposite.  You keep total control.  You make all those decisions for them.  You require them to call you on their cell phones every hour because the big bad world out there is dangerous. You teach them that they can’t trust their own decisions and choices and that you have all the answers.  You criticize and control and protect and hover and warn and do everything in your power to keep them under your wing constantly.  Things stay the same as they were when they were three, seven, nine – when it was easy.  Their only choice is your way or the highway.

I have seen both styles of parenting teens and I know in my heart and from observation that both have pretty good odds of producing results that are less than ideal when it comes to healthy growth and development. The easy way, darn it, never seems to be the right way. Even so, it’s tempting.

See that place in the middle of those two extremes?  It’s tons of work.  It’s work every day, whether you are up for it or not.  You as a parent might be exhausted, sick, busy, or you might just want to keep that good mood going and not rock the boat for once.  You know you must gauge when to move up or down in that middle ground. Constantly you wonder when to let go, when to be quiet, when to just listen, when to speak up, when to hold fast, when to stay firm.

I’ve learned there are many rules or guidelines that start out one way, and end up another as teen’s progress, grow and struggle  – and as we parents progress and grow and struggle also.  Sometimes rules need to be adjusted as kids get older, and as they present a case that makes good sense.  There needs to be a gradual letting go of the reins…a handing over (literally!) of the steering wheel of life.  Trust is broken and gained. Lessons are learned and tears are shed. Sometimes consequences need to be learned the hard way – but it’s tricky to know ahead of time when something is going to be a good learning experience or digs a deeper hole. Sometimes responsibility for decisions is given too soon, sometimes at the right time and sometimes late enough to cause major resentment.  It’s hard to hit that “perfect timing” thing every day.  The light bulb moments us moms savor can be few and far between. And sometimes those light bulb moments are moments when my teens have taught me as much or more as I have taught them!

Every day I’m making decisions large and small on the spur of the moment, in the heat of the moment, in the light of day and the dark of night and it all renders me mentally exhausted – weighing the pros and cons, thinking and rethinking, trying to figure out what’s really important – it’s a learning process.  And then on top of it all, you learn that what works for one child certainly doesn’t work for another. For some teens, the surefire way to get them to do something is to let it be known that we prefer the opposite..  For other teens the tiniest hint of criticism from us leads to a breakdown in communication for months and we must work to regain that relationship.  I’ve had one teen say to me, “You don’t have to be so careful about telling me what you think Mom!  You can trust me to make my own decision and also listen to yours and Dad’s opinion.  I want to hear what you have to say.”  And I’ve had another child say, “This is what I want.  I know it’s right for me even if it isn’t what you would chose.”   Keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure.  And scrambles your brain at the same time.

But if I’ve learned anything in the last few years of parenting teenagers it’s this: my role is not to turn my back and go with the flow and hope for the best, and it’s not to keep them young and dependent on us so they don’t really grow up. It’s to get them to the point where they can make healthy decisions–large and small – for themselves and do it confidently and well. It’s to accept that my children may want different things out of life than what I had wished for them or planned for them.  It’s to watch them develop their own styles and taste and opinions (which I have learned changes so quickly in these years) and try not to cringe too much when it’s not that super cute sun dress, the darling flats, the preppy shirt – or the friend, or the extracurricular activity at school – that I would have chosen.

And yes, it is standing firm and strong at the same time, not being fearful of saying no, and not losing the battle against cultural norms.  Combine all that and we have a dance with the most complicated choreography between parents and teens. It is highly personal–what looks like a pair of shorts too short to someone outside of that intricate relationship, could have the most complicated story behind them–a compromise made after one hundred no’s, a battle not chosen at an emotionally delicate time in that teen’s life, a gesture of love and acceptance when she feels love and acceptance from no one.  It can’t be judged from afar, from the outside, by anyone.  This dance between teens and parents– it takes years and years to learn, it is an art–just as choreography is, dancing with trust, with compromise, with hope, with authority–but always with love.


QUESTION:  What challenges have you come across as you have parented teens?

CHALLENGE:  Find  ways to have healthy discussions with your teens so that the lines of communication stay open. And always remember: you are the parent, not the peer!

Image from Sarah with graphics by Anna Jenkins.


  1. Jeanette says

    I know I’m a little late in commenting, but I had to say “thank you” for this post! My husband and I are struggling to find that perfect balance in parenting our two teens (14 and 13), while also keeping up with our 10 yo and 7 yo. I have been thinking daily, even hourly, about how hard it is to let go enough and let them learn and grow on their own. I thought I pretty much had the parenting thing down until we hit the teens! Humbling indeed!

  2. Kelli says

    Thank you for sharing this. I have 3 teenage daughters, and 3 more girls who will be teenagers in the not too distant future. I can relate so well to this issue of clothing choices specifically and also to the more general issue of letting these amazing children take their own path.

  3. laura says

    thank you for sharing this timely perspective–we are battling this balance with short shorts right now

  4. Peg says

    I needed to read this, although I have two teenage sons I can soooo relate to the everyday struggles. The easy way, though tempting at times, is not best for them. Some days it would be so much nicer not to stand firm, but in the end not better for anyone.
    Now I feel less alone in this! Thanks!!!!
    P.s. your daughter is wonderful

  5. Jennifer says

    Thank you thank you! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels lost on this new parenting of a teenager role. Great words of advice and comfort.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *