From before they're even born, we are trained to dread our children's transformation from beloved moppet to terrible teenager. "Just you wait!" say a chorus of embittered teen parents. "These toddler temper tantrums are nothing compared to a 16-year-old's mood swings." I don't doubt the challenge of older children or these parents' lived experiences, but also don't think it's impossible to have a good relationship with your teen or tween.
Now I will fully admit that I'm coming to this conversation with the optimism of the inexperienced. My kids are 8 and 5: I have a while before I have to worry about any of this one way or the other. But I'm also a human with several decades of observational experience and I've seen positive parent/t(w)een relationships! Being a t(w)een never got in the way of my relationship with my parents! And I have friends who have beautiful relationships with their middle- and high-school children.
So how does it happen? The general consensus seems to be a combination of communication, mutual respect, boundaries, and luck. But how, specifically, can one work to have a strong and positive relationship with their not-so-little kiddo? Romper asked 15 parents how they did it — here's what they had to say.
"The difference between volatile and smooth sailing in our house is entirely their personalities. Sample size: teen and tween."
"[My son] tells us a lot and comes to us with concerns, fears, big ideas, etc. I think the key for our kid is not overreacting when he tells us something big — even when it's causing us internal turmoil! [We] stay low-key and really listen and let him know we hear him and never shame him with comments like, 'Well, that's not going to work.' I try to keep my control-freak nature at bay and let him sort things out for himself and offer advice when he asks. He's always been the kind of kid who wants to please everyone and feeds off of relationships when he knows he's really on someone's good side, so we try to have a lot of fun with him and let him guide the fun. Of course he gets grumpy when we push things he doesn't think he wants to do (going hiking, auditioning for county band), but then turns around and says it was the best time ever."
"I have a good relationship with my tween. Right now she is in between being a kid and being a teen. I think being able to keep calm with her is key. I don’t yell or use a nasty tone with her and expect the same kindness in return. For the most part she still treats me like a human being with feelings. The tween mood swings are no joke though."
"I try to take a genuine interest in her interests when she shares them and to make space for them in our family. Like, if we're in the car together, I let her put on her music ... we might listen to her favorite podcasts and I try to find something good to say about them, even if I wouldn't necessarily choose to listen to them on my own time ... she has actually introduced us to things we all enjoy. I think it makes her feel like her opinions are valued and also gives us something to connect over."
"We talk! I mean really talk. Also that we laugh at the generational differences and find common things to bond over — right now it's manicures as we are both reformed nail biters obsessed with our nails."
"When [my daughter] is upset or hangry and wants to discuss something of which we have differing opinions, I encourage her to eat and calm down and hold the discussion until we can talk about it rationally. This seems to help minimize the fights. We talk through pros and cons and our opinions and I encourage her to help solve whatever the problem is."
"I do find when I share my teen experiences both positive and negative, she really likes that. My mantra with her is 'friends come and go, moms are forever.' I don’t try to be her buddy, we have rules and expectations, and she seems to vibe with that."
"I'm not afraid to admit I was wrong and apologize. I also share with her a lot of mistakes and dumb things I did and still do. I grew up with a mom who is in many ways extremely wonderful, but the words 'I'm sorry' — or any kind of accountability, really — have never crossed her lips, and this alone has made many things extremely challenging in our relationship."
"I think you can have a good relationship with your teen and not be 'close.' Part of being a teenager is pulling away and we as parents need to understand and allow it."
"If [we] get upset we talk calmly about it ... I always listen to her concerns and let her know she makes valid points even if she doesn't get her way. We use humor a lot. Even when she does annoying things like leaving her book bag and gym bag in the hallway every single friggin' day I don't yell but 'mock' her for it and laugh when she comes up with the most absurd reasons for leaving them there. I never ever play on guilt or emotional manipulation. Nothing's taboo: we talk about insecurities and her periods and sex and crushes."
"[My two daughters and I] left their dad when they were very young. ... I created family rules when we moved out. One of them was they could tell me anything. That I will always find out, but if they come to me first, we’ll deal with it together. Then I made sure I followed through on it. Even now, they know that if they are ever drunk or high and need a safe ride home they can call me. I've pinky sworn there will be no lecturing or fighting. Not a peep until they’ve had a sleep and a bit of breakfast in them."
"I hug my kids each morning. I initially started it for myself — now [they] ask for the hugs. I also have 20 minutes alone with each kid as we wait for buses. It’s a nice time to check in."
"I thought I could help with this, but now my teen is saying 'Ew, I can't stand my mom; she's actually the worst,' so... maybe not. (She's kidding. I think. Maybe?)"
"We watch Gilmore Girls. This has been so fun — we both like it and it’s a super safe way to bring up tween/teen topics. 'Do you think Lane made a good choice when she fibbed to her mom?' 'Sookie is so loony over the produce guy! And I approve of him because he treats her with kindness' — subliminal mom messages about healthy relationships.
"She can wear whatever she wants. I don’t say a thing. Ditto her hair. It’s an appalling rat’s nest 90% of the time, but I bite my tongue because at age 47 I still remember every thing my mom has ever said about my appearance."
"Mine says it’s 'because you like to hang out with me.'"