Is Parenting Really a 24-Hour Job?
The Parenting Challenge
It’s been said that parenting is a 24-hour-a-day job. Seven days a week. 365 days a year. But does that mean we’ve got to be latched to our children at every moment? In part, taking care of our children means being available at all times. For questions and guidance. To help with anxieties and fears. To encourage and support them.
Being available day or night in those tween and teen years is even more crucial. You never know exactly when your teens may want or need to open up. And there’s a good chance they will choose less-than-convenient times to process emotions or situations they’re going through.
Help Yourself, Help Your Teens
Part of taking care of your child is taking care of yourself. But how can you be accessible and still manage your own time and responsibilities? How do you deal with worries and anxieties as to whether your teens are headed for the future you hope for them? How can you be sure you’re being the best parent you can be?
There are ways to help yourself, and in turn, help your teens. And there are ways to help prevent some of the toughest situations you’ll face together. The key is developing open and honest lines of communication early on.
Effective Communication Tips
1) Notice Communication Styles
Think about when your teen is most likely to talk to you. At bedtime? When you’re driving together in the car? Do you see any patterns? If so, make yourself available during the times they are most likely to let you in. Also, consider the delivery. While face-to-face conversations have benefits, some teens are more comfortable communicating differently. For example, via text, when walking side-by-side, or when the focus is not all on them (like when you’re cooking a meal or playing sports together).
2) Kick Start the Conversation
If it’s hard to get your teen to open up, why not strike up a conversation. Try not to begin with a yes or no question directed at your teen. Instead, share something light that you’ve been thinking about. Don’t pressure your teen to join in. Really listen to what’s said. And if you do hear something concerning, don’t get angry, lecture, or threaten with punishment. Focus on your teen’s feelings instead of your own. And allow your teen to finish thoughts before responding.
3) Timing Matters
Look for one-on-one opportunities. Carve out some time each week and commit to keeping your calendar clear. Consider using an activity to bring you together — jogging, making crafts, or another hobby your teen enjoys. Learn what interests your teens and show interest in it yourself. Even if you have more than one child, focused one-on-one attention is important. Your time together will strengthen your relationship. Family bonding time is special. Never give it up. It also offers the chance for teens to discuss feelings or needs.
4) Choose a Code Word
At times, tweens and teens can find themselves in places they don’t want to be. Between peer pressure and a lack of experience, they could end up in uncomfortable situations. For example, parties where there’s drinking or other tricky social situations. If your teens find it awkward, hard, or scary to get out of those situations and still save face with friends, establish a code word. My daughter’s first chosen code word? “Shrimp.” Didn’t take us long to realize that wasn’t going to be easy to drop into a phone conversation. Our next choice? “Dessert.” The point is, it needs to be something easy to remember and that your teen can fit into a sentence or text to signal the need to get out of a situation. That triggers you to call with an excuse or demand to come home. For more on code words, read this.
5) Find a Parental Peer Group
Do you have a group of parents going through similar circumstances to turn to? If not, seek some out. It may be a combination of some parents your age and some older than you who will remind you that everything is going to work out. Avoid those who bring trouble or negativity into your circle. Or those who make you feel guilty that you’re not doing enough for your teen. Spend time with those who believe it’s important to let teens explore, learn, and create their own paths to success.
6) Plan Ahead
Think about how you’re going to approach tough topics such as sex, drugs, or peer pressure before bringing them up. Putting thought into it ahead of time allows you to consider the style and tactics you’ll take. You can also plan for a range of potential responses you may get from your teen. Remember, these are ongoing conversations and how you react may impact their willingness to talk about it in the future.
7) Accept, Understand, and Confront Your Fears
All parents have fears. But it’s important to ask yourself whether you’re making parenting decisions based on fear or fact? Is there real evidence behind what worries you or are you blowing things out of proportion? For example, maybe your son isn’t doing well in 7th-grade math. Does that really mean he’s not going to get into college? Highly unlikely. If your daughter has been lying to you about how she’s spending her time, does that mean she’ll end up a juvenile delinquent? Probably not. But if you’ve found a nearly empty vodka bottle in the liquor cabinet and it wasn’t the adults in the house who drank it, this is worth addressing.Confront your fears by taking action. Just make sure your actions are in line with the concern.
Easy Self-Care Tips
There are many rewarding ways to invest in yourself as a parent. Opportunities range from activities you can do alone or with others. The goal is to choose what makes you feel good. Click through for strategies and suggestions.
Getting your body moving has plenty of upsides. Exercise improves concentration and helps manage stress.
Pursue a Hobby
Do an activity simply because it’s fun. Hobbies help reduce tension and boost happiness.
Break down big problems into smaller, more manageable parts. Face them head on -- just one at a time.
Give Back to Your Community
Volunteering boosts well-being. It enables you to put aside your troubles and gain needed perspective.
It’s Rewarding Work
Creating and maintaining strong connections with your teens can be one of life’s greatest rewards. But all good things typically follow hard work and challenges. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t try to do everything on your own. Turn to others in your collective support system for help. That could mean extended members of your family including grandparents, cousins, and other kin. Or consult in friends that you trust, or others in your community including teachers, coaches, clergy. And there are professionals trained to support families.
So while parenting can be a 24-hour job, the secret is finding balance. It’s about laying the foundation for effective communication. And it’s remembering that you are not only a parent. You are so very much more. A 24-hour life partner. A 24-hour friend. A 24-hour individual. You are modeling what it means to be a healthy adult. Don’t get caught up in being so child-focused that you lose yourself. Have some fun! There’s no time like the present.