“Mom, I need to thank you for pushing me to go to that interview.”
My 15 year old’s words caught me so off guard that I almost choked on my sip of water. I glanced at my husband across the restaurant table and we shared an invisible high five. We did it - we made the right choice to push!
If you’ve ever parented a teenager, you know that there is an almost constant struggle between pushing them too hard and not pushing them hard enough.
So, when it turns out you made the right choice as a parent AND your teen appreciates it, these are the moments that you remember as a parent of a teenager.
The day of the surprise thank you had started like a normal weekend day with teenagers as everyone coordinated rides, work schedules, and sports commitments. My husband and I had realized that we had a small window of opportunity that day where both teens would be busy at the same time as one would be at work and the other would be at sports practice. So, we made a reservation for a fancy new restaurant we’d been wanting to try - just the two of us.
As we headed to the restaurant, my husband and I reached for each other’s hands, commenting on how nice it was to finally have some time alone for a bit of a date. Covid had really made days like today few and far between. Just as we pulled into the parking lot though, our 15 year old son texted us to let us know he was getting off of work early and needed a ride home. Right then.
Yet another grown up plan thwarted. This is the life of parenting teens sometimes.
Quickly reframing the moment, we changed our reservation from a party of 2 to a party of 3, pushed it back by 20 minutes, and decided to take our son out for dinner with us.
As the three of us walked into the restaurant just a short time later, I couldn’t help but be transported back to so many years earlier when the three of us walked into a restaurant together for the first time. Back then, we carried our now teenager inside the restaurant via a baby carrier and he slept in my arms during our whole meal. On this day, though, he held the door for us, both of us short enough to duck under his outstretched arm to get through the door.
By the time he uttered that thank you phrase about pushing him to go to his interview, I was already feeling emotional and a bit in awe. We had just spent time during our meal talking about him signing up for driver’s education classes, his course schedule for his Sophomore year of high school, his work plans for spring break, and how he could go about requesting some time off for a family vacation this summer.
That’s when he put his drink down, turned to me, looked me in the eyes, and thanked me for pushing him.
My heart stopped for a beat as I reflected internally on the morning of his interview, as it is one of those parenting moments I will always remember. As much as he had been wanting to find a job so he could start earning and saving his own money, he had been extremely nervous about the interview process. On the morning of his first real in-person interview, he told me he wanted to cancel.
As with most moments in parenting teens, I had a decision to make: do I push or do I back off?
I decided to push. I encouraged him to go to the interview, reminding him that it was completely normal to feel nervous. I told him if he didn’t get the job, it wouldn’t be a big deal as he had lots of other job applications in process. When he rolled his eyes and told me he wasn’t even interested in the job, I doubled down on my decision and told him that it would make the interview an even more important experience for him - he could practice interviewing, managing his anxious feelings, and would not be crushed if he did not get the job.
It wasn’t enough. He wanted to cancel the interview and threw every potential reason at me.
Although the discussion eventually escalated to an argument, ultimately, he went to the interview, grumbling at me as he huffed angrily out the door and into the car, leaving me to wonder “Did I just push him too hard? Did I just scar him for life? Should I have backed off?”
Just 45 minutes later, while on his way home with my husband, he called me and I could instantly hear the smile in his voice. He had been offered the job on the spot and was excited about the schedule, the pay, his supervisor, and the job duties.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I had made the right decision to push. It all worked out. Even though he didn’t thank me in that moment, the happiness in his voice was enough for me. It all had worked out.
But, that’s not always how it goes with parenting teenagers.
These parenting years are filled with countless moments of having to decide whether to push your teen or back off. Sometimes you push them to make a certain decision and run the risk of pushing them too hard. Other times you back off to let them make their own decisions and wonder what would have happened if only you had stepped in. Either choice leaves you feeling confused, scared, and guilty as a parent. The process of asking yourself “what if?” is endless during this stage of parenting and the guilt is an almost constant companion.
The truth is that the process of parenting teens is one in which you get to witness a whole lot of mistakes - both from them and from you. Over and over again.
But, if you look closely at each moment, even those moments that wind up being mistakes, you will find they are learning opportunities for parents and teens alike.
The mistake moments are where growth happens.
The victory moments, like when your teen finally tells you “thank you for pushing me,” are where humility and humbleness happen.
Both kinds of moments are important.
Parenting is one of life's greatest challenges and greatest rewards. Here we explore all aspects of parenting from pregnancy onward, highlighting both the struggles and the triumphs.