Parenting Teens is all about knowing when to stay in the fight and when to step back. What teens crave most is to be left alone to make their own decisions. A little bit of benign neglect goes a long way with teenagers – as they grow into their future adult shoes.
But there are only so many bad decisions you can sit by and watch as a parent without being compelled to intervene. When your teen struggles with their mental health – stepping back and leaving them on their own can feel too risky. Yet challenging every bad decision is exhausting for everyone.
Leaving my son to sit in his bedroom for days on end with the curtains drawn because he won’t leave the house just feels wrong on every level – but I have to pick my fights – and also acknowledge the behaviour that I can’t influence. Right now my son is sitting behind those curtains revising on his own for year 10 mocks. A huge achievement for someone who hasn’t been in school for 6 months, and something that I would not have thought possible a few weeks ago. It’s difficult to acknowledge but it is the things that I have given up on – getting him out of bed in the morning, taking exercise and getting fresh air – that have created the space in our relationship for him to step up with other things.
I have spent the last few months trying to navigate between the two different strategies of pushing him all the way up the hill and just walking away. One of the professionals involved in my son’s life, in the nicest possible way, recently told me to take a chill pill – something I didn’t want to accept at the time. But having panic attacks while running because I couldn’t breathe, and finding myself unable to do the things that make me feel good – forced me to reconsider the amount of time and energy I was spending on trying to help my son.
Being a parent is knowing when to fight like a bear to defend her cub and when to look the other way and roll in the sun – or have a back scratch on the nearest tree. I am a natural fighter – growing up in a family where 3 out of 6 of us were on the autistic spectrum meant that I realised early on that the people around me needed my help. Thus began a lifetime of ‘helping’ that I have spent my adulthood trying to manage. But I was a child in the 70s when there was very little help to be had – Hans Aspergers’ new syndrome was not fully accepted until the 90s and fiercely intelligent people with few communication tools were mostly ignored and labelled eccentric. So what started as a child’s efforts to engage my distant brother, mother and grandfather has led to my current fight for inclusion for my trans and neuro-diverse son.
But I also have to remind myself daily to step back from the fight. Go sea swimming, running in the woods or simply sit in the sun and enjoy the feeling of doing nothing. When to stay and when to go and look after your own well-being is a daily judgement call for all parents – it just comes with higher consequences when your child is neuro-diverse or struggles with mental health. Recently I left for a one night, one woman, one dog camping trip in the Welsh woods. It recharged my soul and now I am ready to stay and keep working on my Zen…
Emma Charvet is a single mother to two teenagers, co-founder of Children’s Yoga Tree Training School and is passionate about supporting children’s mental health. She teaches a weekly 15 min online Mindfulness session for Teens and also offers live online Vinyasa Yoga and weekly video subscriptions for adults and children. Contact Emma to book www.emmayoga.com