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YOUR NEW NORMAL

One day you are going to look up and it’s going to hit you: Your little girl is not your little girl anymore. It will surprise you. When did that happen? Hips, breasts, hormones, moods, boys.

Elizabeth comes home from school one day and says, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" "Why?", I ask. "To get to the idiots house." Huh? "Knock knock", she says. "Who's there?" "The chicken." And then she's proud of herself and that's how it is sometimes. She knows everything now. You no longer need the internet. It helps to laugh about it. 

The teen years, the best years of parenting ... said no parent ever. 

 

Studies show that dads start to withdraw from daughters in these years. The relationship becomes awkward. One day she wants to sit in your lap, the next you are the embodiment of everything wrong in her life. She may remind you of that swirling jar of numbered balls at a bingo game. A random ball comes out – N2 sweet little girl, B3 – sulking girl, G16 – mature thoughtful girl. You never know. One morning my youngest came down the stairs, and I said, “Really cute outfit.” “So what you’re saying is I’m fat?” she cried.

 

It can be like that. Don’t lose heart - the teen years will sometimes be stormy and turbulent. There will be times when she takes your last ounce of patience and crushes it. Not all the time, but enough of the time. This is normal ... your new normal. She is testing her boundaries and challenging your rules - she is supposed to be doing this. Learning to live independently from you. And though it might not seem like it, she needs you more than ever. You are getting glimpses of the woman she will become with your love and leadership. But you will have to be willing to stand in the storm. 

DAD TIP ON "HANGING OUT": Make your home her preferred place to hang out (but don't tell her what you're up to). Make it a place her friends like to hang out. Be welcoming and respectful. Give them their space and privacy. Have a space for their activities if possible. Have refreshments and snacks - teens are always hungry. Have rules you expect her to keep - I always required her bedroom door to be partly open, non-negotiable.

 

And ... remember who they are: teenagers. Keep both eyes and both ears open. 

 

Seems risky, right? There is no better way to learn who her friends are and what they're up to. I realize this is inviting some chaos into your home, but she's going to hang out somewhere - why not with you?

STANDING IN THE STORMEvery parent has been in storms raising children, especially in the teen years. A dear friend once told me that's part of life, being able to "stand in the storms." He knows. In 2006 his two-year-old daughter, Mary Clare died in her sleep. The last thing her parents heard her say when mom got up to check on her early that morning was, "I'm OK mommy". A few days later I went with them back into their home for the first time after her death. 

They had many choices in life, that day and since. One choice they made was to travel the country, talking to youths, and sharing their faith. They chose to use their experience to inspire others and show that life goes on. They now have four children.

I keep a picture of Mary Clare out to remind me how fragile life is, to not be in too big a rush to get past the current moment, and to keep things in perspective. The teen years will pass, and faster than you might wish. Before you know it, she will leave, maybe off to college, and you will get a new new normal. And part of you will miss the old one - enjoy the ride.

Finding Elizabeth on the floor of the bathroom that morning with bloody wrists left a mark. Each day since has been a gift, with many storms and many blessings. I will stand in every storm that blows through her life. I tell myself that if Matt and Stephanie can live and prosper through their storm, I can deal with the teen years. So can you. Brace yourself for your "new normal," - the teen years, and remember, the love never stops.

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SHE’S HAVING HER PERIOD

Both my girls had their first period with me. Alone. Single dad. Awkward. If there was a mom around, I would have headed for the gym. But I’m glad I didn’t. I learned a lot about what it’s like to be a woman in the world by being there for them when this started.

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BOUNDARIES

She is pushing back against you and your rules as she grows into her own. She is supposed to be doing this. It’s normal.  It is part of the process of her becoming independent from you and moving into the world on her own. She’s not your little girl anymore.

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SHUT UP AND LISTEN

It’s been a three year journey since I found Elizabeth on the floor of her bathroom that morning. She’s better now. She still has struggles, but she is better. We talk about important things now, the real stories. It wasn’t my fault she attempted suicide, but why  didn’t I know how desperate she was? I wasn’t listening closely enough. 

The scariest part of raising a teen is remembering all the stupid things you did as a teenager.

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