Six strategies that work.
Originally posted in Psychology Today
Parenting is never easy, especially during baby- and toddlerhood, times so physically demanding, basic self-care or merely keeping one’s eyes open provides a challenge. Fortunately, parents are rewarded with hugs, kisses and the gift of love, besides being supported by other parents’ more or less good advice. The following years aren’t exactly a vacation either, but nothing comes close to the difficulty of parenthood during adolescence. NOTHING.
If you are the one parent who finds adolescence to be a joyride, please read no more. For all who feel they are drowning in boiling water, read on. Help is on the way. First, a disclaimer: I have the most awesome teenagers in the world. I love them to pieces – even while being shredded into pieces. Why? Because I can. And I know you feel the same as that’s what most parents are made of: incorrigible love. It’s only natural.
Adolescence is an amazing time of growth, courage, innovation, and creativity. The brain isn’t just overwhelmed with hormones, but becomes a construction zone, as Daniel Siegel described in his helpful book “Brainstorm”.1 And while I am about to concentrate on those who pay the price for this storm, I believe in the potential of a Happy Adolescent2. Truth is, we can always grow and take steps to encourage our and others’ happiness.
With that said, adolescence is more intellectually exhausting and plain painful. Hugs and kisses often disappear, not for a stormy day, but for the entire adolescent b-rain season. Advice from others is rare while warnings are frequent: “You haven’t seen anything yet!”, “Worst time of my life!”, “Good luck!” Some “survivors” just run out of the room upon being reminded of this time. Suniya Luthar and her colleague Lucia Cicolla from Arizona State University studied approximately 2,200 mothers with kids of all ages regarding their well-being, parenting, and perceptions of their kids.3The researchers determined that adolescence was indeed the most taxing time in their lives, especially during the ages of 12 to 14. Many mothers burned-out and fell into a depressed state. So, here is my survival strategy:
- KNOW WHY YOU ARE BURNED OUT
Many of us have unrealistic expectations. We think that we should love perfectly, give nonstop, and offer solutions to every problem. We think we should be competent in our job as parent even though we have never done it before — at least not with that kid. To know the following challenges is the first step:
- Brains need dopamine to experience pleasure, which we generate when we believe we have done something “right” or “good.” During adolescence we are likely to become dopamine-deprived as many kids are no longer affectionate or convey their appreciation.
- Instead of dopamine, we might now produce stress hormones. Our own and our adolescent’s negativity take a toll.
- We must adjust to a totally different kid. Changes are so erratic, it’s hard to keep up.
- We might miss the old kid, for which we might get scolded. This can be very painful, even when we understand that change is necessary and natural. Acceptance of impermanence is a slight buffer, but won’t spare us the mourning.
- You are the first responder to your kid’s numerous problems: academic, peer and cultural pressure (to be popular, look like a supermodel and become super-rich); confusion; moodiness; sadness; angst; feelings of insecurity due to excessive labeling (e.g. mood disorders and ADD). Problem overload in your adolescent is problem overload in you.
- Your partner may have checked out emotionally or into a hotel. Some suddenly become workaholics to avoid their brainstormer.
- Adolescence might coincide with menopause and/or the loss of your own parent.
Knowledge about our challenges can lead to more kindness to ourselves and to help our brain chemistry as follows:
- EXTREME SELF-CARE
While this is common advice, during adolescence “Take good care of yourself” must turn into “Take extremely good care of yourself, that is multiple times a day, for the next few years.” The point cannot be overemphasized. Sometimes I take a bath after half an hour of contact with my beloved brainstormer. I exercise every single day of my life for fitness and health, but also because it generates dopamine.
To decrease stress hormones, I meditate, go for nature walks with my dog, hug “huggable” people, see my girl-friend, take naps, eat a ton of vegetables and fruits, sing, read a good book, enjoy art — you name it. How do I have time for this? I steal it. Besides, it helps to accumulate and do my errands in one wash, stay away from screens and magazines, refuse to cater to my kids’ every want and concentrate on what they actually need.
- EXTERNAL SUPPORT
You cannot do this by yourself. Find the right support, including professional support, such as a psychotherapist, a tutor (free in many public libraries), a medical doctor, nutritionist or herbalist who support you during menopause.
- FOCUS ON YOUR PARTNERSHIP
Focus on your significant other. Have regular dates, alone-time at home, a strategy to work as a team, a plan for sex and, if needed, go to a marriage counselor. When you argue, take turns in listening to and validating each other. Don’t ever assume how the other feels, but ask questions instead. Insist on reciprocity. To improve your relationship, you might benefit from reading Chapter Six “Connections” in A Unified Theory of Happiness.
- CRY WHEN YOU WANT TO
Releasing your stress in any form of self-expression can be enormously helpful. As always, the way out of pain is going through it.
- WHAT MATTERS MOST
Keep in mind that things usually work themselves out when parents maintain an open, supportive heart for their adolescent. You might not see any evidence for it, but your love matters and will bear fruit eventually. When the storm is over, you will suddenly be a wonderful parent again. It’s what they say… — I choose to believe it.
1) Daniel J. Siegel (2014). Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. New York: Tarcher/Penguin.
2) There are numerous helpful suggestions for parents who wish to help their youth become happier: See blog article “Happy Adolescent” in the rubric “Adolescence” or visit:
3) Study conducted by Professor Suniya Luthar et al. Arizona State University (ASU) Foundation. Moms Have Toughest Time When Kids Are in Middle School:
© 2017 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. All Rights Reserved.