How to parent your teen — the manual that made it in the trash

My son turns 13 years-old on Black Friday. Could there be a more ominous sign than that? While hoards of shoppers are waking up at 3 a.m. to suffer through lines and duke it out for deals, my sweet baby, ever so dear, will be entering the darkness that often accompanies the teenage years.

As if he is already rehearsing for the big day of black, my house has recently been filled with a cacophony of slamming doors, woeful sighs and whispers under the breath that I am pretty sure do not include any sweet nothings. It sounds like a coarse symphony that does nothing to evoke my sympathies.

I called a friend a few weeks ago and in a prayerful plea, asked in the name of all that is holy, all that is sane, and all that is merciful, to lend me every parenting book she owns.

She brought me five.

The small stack of books sat in my office and my younger son asked me why I had so many teenager books. Before I could even formulate a response, he answered his own question — obviously remembering his brother’s upcoming birthday.   “Oh yeah, it’s going to be a long seven years…,” he said prophetically.

Seven years? Why do the terrible twos get all the notoriety? That’s one measly year and they are still small enough to be restrained.

As I read, I began strategizing, thinking of systems to implement and solutions to employ. I realized that, if necessary, doors could be unhinged. He would inevitably realize that not loading the dishwasher would be to his disadvantage.   And, I felt hopeful that discussions could be facilitated without anyone actually dying.

Ah, I was going to be the most brilliant teenage mother ever.

I started writing a sort of manifesto for the teen years. I clicked away at the computer thinking to myself that I was doing the holy work of writing the instruction manual for parenting that I always wished I had.

Although my business interests have never evolved passed retail and at that, only on the paying side of the cash register, I had ultimately written my first business plan.

It read like a contract, with caveats and consequences included for clarity. It featured equations for various if/then scenarios and it clearly proved that my naiveté is boundless.

I actually believed that what I had written would be embraced – that is until I proudly emailed a trusted friend with the teen manual, which I intended to present to my son. She is tactful to a fault, so when she suggested that my glorious parenting plan would evoke a middle finger response I was stunned.


I reread my work. It was so beautiful. It had italics and bullet points and fancy words like parameters, privileges, outlined and occasionally.

I guess I could see where it was kind of bossy pants-ish, but it did include a smiley emoticon and an I love you.

I signed it not with the slang, Yo mama, but with the sincere, sweet, your mama that was so obviously me.

Later that night, with my two-page, single-spaced manifesto by my side I sat down and spoke with my son. Maybe it was because I was lulled by the soothing sound of the dishwasher that my tween ran without my mention, but I was uncannily calm. We talked about grades, basketball and ways he could earn extra money.

We didn’t hold hands, or hug or do anything that would invoke Norman Rockwell to paint us, but we talked. I didn’t boss or dictate either, yet I didn’t digress from making my expectations clear.

When we finished talking, he kissed me goodnight and there I sat – the manifesto, a mostly-read parenting book and myself.

I thought about ripping up my beautiful plan I had written about how the teen years would unfold in our home, but I didn’t have the energy to be so dramatic.   I simply folded it into a little square to put in the trash.

I guess what I realized is that maybe the reason children don’t come with instructions is because parenting isn’t meant to be precise. It might be insightful to read some books, or even to write your own plan about how you intend to parent, but often intentions and plans don’t really have much to do with raising children.

Like the rest of us, children are unique and, like it or not, have plans of their own. They will make their own path in the world and it’s our job to guide them as they do. It is a delicate balance between letting go and holding on. Sometimes it’s letting pieces fall where they may, and sometimes it means picking up the pieces and starting over again.

Maybe parenthood could best be described as prayer – a combination of something we hope for, ask of, praise, repent, and offer thanks. It is an active petition that is said every time we discipline, praise, share affection, or just sit and talk. The prayer does not end, like love, it endures time, tantrums and even teenagers. It is an offering of the best of ourselves so that someone we love can become the best of their selves. It is sacrifice, surrender, forgiveness, and humility.

Parenting may be described as more gut-wrenching than glorious, but it is no doubt the most Holy work we can do.

While my son may turn 13 on a day dubbed Black Friday, it’s no coincidence this falls the day after Thanksgiving. After all, he has been a blessing everyday of his life. He is a prayer and a gift.

Of course, I know the years ahead won’t be easy, but I can’t help but feel excited about all that awaits.  The spectrum of joy, discovery and promise that lies ahead is sure to be anything but black.

13 thoughts on “How to parent your teen — the manual that made it in the trash

  • Pingback: The teen parenting manual that made it in the trash By Lara Patangan | The Forever Years

  • November 19, 2014 at 7:59 am

    Amen!! It’s a roller coaster ride so worth taking, and over too quickly. Beautiful piece.

    • November 20, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Thank you Sarah. You are right it is over too quickly. As my son is almost taller than me now I am constantly reminded that he is on his way to adulthood. Truly bittersweet.

  • November 19, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Hello, Lara! You ave a new fan. I loved your piece, it rang so true. Having just sent our first child off to college I often say,”Prayer is all we have left.” Not to diminish the power of prayer, but as you so humorously point out, during the terrible twos we can restrain them! The control of toddlerhood is a gift; the management of a teenager, now that is an art!

    • November 20, 2014 at 11:01 am

      Thank you Susan! I guess I am in the throes of learning the art of teen management and if I do it would be an incredible gift! Congrats on getting the first one to college! I will say a prayer that he remembers all the goodness his mama taught him!

  • November 18, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    What a beautiful piece of writing! I am dealing with the same difficult transition of loving and letting go. I hope and pray that my words thus far will not be mocked but remembered. Most of all I hope they know that we are their biggest fans!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    • November 18, 2014 at 10:00 pm

      I agree Wendy. My hope is that my boys will have an inkling of just much they are loved. I am sure you have seen that quote about don’t worry so much about how your kid will turn out that you forget that you already have a good kid. I know I butchered i,t but it goes something like that. I always try and remember it because I think he is amazing and like you with your children – I too am his biggest fan.

  • November 18, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    I think this is one of your best pieces ever–transparent, funny, vulnerable, tender, truthful. You are the Erma Bombeck for the 21st Century. And someday your words will be a treasure trove for your sons.

  • November 18, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    What wonderful words of wisdom! You have given me a glimmer of happiness and hope as my oldest prepares to enter her teenage years! Blessings.

    • November 18, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      Thanks Christina. Good luck to you with your daughter! I do think its exciting to see them emerge into who they are meant to be. I think too that part of letting go is trusting that we did our jobs well. One of the books I read so if you are the toe to read a parenting book you are most likely a good enough parent – that made me happy!

  • November 18, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    loved reading this as I journey through the fourth child turning 13….tumultuous would be a word I use…my prayer is always the same..”Lord, let them all get their hormones before I lose mine”….totally selfish but I don’t want the upswing and the downswing to fall in the same slice. It’s all good….I promise

    • November 18, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      Tricia – it is inspiring to know you have already been through this three times and knowing what I know about parenting I bet it has been different every time! From what I have seen so far it is a roller coaster and honestly, I am not really a roller coaster kind of girl!


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