Motherhood and Teenagers


Mothering a teenager is a special phase in a mother’s journey. It is a time of tumultuous growth for her, when her path of love can take a significant turn into new and unimagined territory.  Learning how to love a teenager can also teach a mother how to respect herself, and expect to be respected by others.  This is the foundation of rootedness and wisdom.

Our culture puts pressure on, and permission to teenagers to behave in quite inappropriate and disrespectful ways, in the name of “separation” from parents. The result is a silence about the impact of such behaviors upon the mother.

When a woman becomes a mother, the organizing principle of her life shifts dramatically. All her decisions about how she will live her life from now on take the child/ren into account first. When this child becomes rude and devaluing, and there is a subtle cultural message that this is oaky and “normal,” it can decenter a mother’s capacity to love. It can also feel like a betrayal. But we mothers cannot express these feelings to others, because no one else seems to feel it. “It’s teenage, they are all like that” is supposed to be the explanation.

I believe this is inherently wrong, and unjust.  The mother’s side of the story has been ignored when we talk about teenagers.   She too is a human being, entitled to have feelings and reactions to the way she and her work of Motherhood are treated.  She, just like anyone else, is entitled to dignity and respect, especially from those she has worked so hard for.

These desires can feel forbidden to a mother, and daunting at best.  This is to be expected, as these are new, uncomfortable stirrings.  The core motivation for a mother to grow through this phase is that this growth is good for her future as a woman, and excellent for her child.  During this transformational phase for mothers, something very important happens for their teenagers too; they learn how to address the needs of those who have loved them the most, along with their own needs.  Learning this kind of mutuality is the foundation stone of their capacity to love others.

I have been awed by the tremendous calming shifts that occur in a family with a teenage child when a mother gives herself permission to grow. I am now convinced that her child’s teenage is just as much a stage for the mother as it is for the teenager.  Her love learns to grow into something new and wise, bringing her own value and self-respect into the relationship in new ways. This is the call, and this is the message.