So, you’re the parent of a teenager. Those four little words that used warm a mother’s heart—I love you, Mommy—have now become four words guaranteed to ruin your day: Mom, I hate you!
Many parents find (just as their parents did before them) that the adorable children they’ve devoted their lives to—from babyhood to precocious toddler to curious adolescent—have seemingly turned on them overnight.
Maybe it’s hormones, or a desire for independence. But who cares, when your teen is being so unpleasant to be around? And more importantly, what can you do about it?
Talk to them.
Your teenager’s favorite words after I hate you may be Leave me alone. But as a protective parent you need to keep up with what’s going on in their lives. Talking to your teens about school, their friends, and important issues like sex, drugs and alcohol, is imperative—even if neither of you enjoys it much. “Our teens are going through a lot, to put it mildly. There are many changes and going through that much they are uncertain how to manage,” explains Melissa Kester, MA, LMFT, Founder and Director of Madison Marriage and Family Therapy, PC in New York City and the editor of Towards Healing. “If we can be loving and compassionate soundboards, they will be more interested in turning to us for our wise advice.” But don’t overdo it: “If we attack them with our wisdom they will turn elsewhere,” warns Kester.
Read Related: What to Do When You Can’t Stand Your Kids
But give them space, too.
There was a time when you were your child’s go-to person to converse about everything under the sun: the new Disney movie, the family that moved in down the block, and what the moon is made of. And your kid may still come to you with questions about issues like heartbreak. But most of the time, you probably feel like the last person on Earth your prickly teen wants to talk to. As hard as it might be, give him a little breathing room. “To be awesome adults, [teenagers] need to feel the challenges and explore their independence,” says Kester. Honor his wishes for a little space, but don’t shut him out entirely. Your teen needs you, even if he doesn’t act like it.
Keep your cool.
You asked a simple question: Are you going to be warm enough outside in that flimsy jacket? But your teen turned on you as if you’d started World War III. Maybe she told you to leave her alone. Maybe she said she hates you. Or maybe she screamed something we can’t even print. No one could blame you for returning fire—but try not to. Stay calm, but feel free to express yourself. “You can tell them that hurts and you hear they are angry. You can ask them if they would like to tell you why they are so upset,” suggests Kester. “But understand that they are expressing frustration and displeasure, not an actual feeling towards you.”
Let them know you love them.
Your kid may not seem to realize he’s turned into a monstrous malcontent, but deep down, he knows. And he’s probably wondering whether you can possibly still love him after your daily disagreements. (You may have doubts yourself sometimes!) You can let your teen know you love them in lots of little ways: by preparing the chiles rellenos you know he loves, or by suggesting an outing to see the latest action movie (even if you’d prefer a rom-com).
But don’t be a doormat.
You can be a loving mom in full control of her emotions who loves her teen no matter what horrors she unleashes upon your household, whether it’s blaring music, a permanently sullen expression, or bathroom campouts that last up to two hours. But you deserve to be treated with respect—and you certainly shouldn’t put up with any kind of abuse, verbal or physical. Parental abuse is a form of domestic violence, just like child abuse. If your teen is abusing you, don’t hesitate to seek outside assistance.
Dealing with a difficult teenager can result in days that feel like months, and months that feel like decades. But your child’s teenage years will end, and with (mutual) love and understanding, your terrible teen will blossom into a mature, caring, responsible adult who once again loves her mom. “Trust that this time will pass and practice loving communication,” advises Kester. Who knows, when your teens are all grown-up and headed off to college, you may even miss them—even if that’s hard to imagine now.