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When parents of teens feel like we are failing

Being a parent is never easy. The toddler tantrums, the stroppy 6-year-old, the lippy tween, the unfathomingly exhausting newborn phase – there are challenges at every stage of the journey. But the challenges of parenting teenagers can shake parents to the core.

Perhaps it’s because we feel like we ought to have mastered parenting by now – after all, we’ve been doing it for over a decade. Indeed, some of us might feel we have succeeded in becoming half decent parents and are proud of the job we’re doing. And then the teenage years come along and everything comes tumbling down as we try to adjust to this new person we don’t recognise.

Perhaps it’s because of the enormity of the risks. The stakes feel so much higher. Life-changing exams loom large and it feels like our children’s whole futures hang in the balance in those few short years. One wrong turn into drugs or alcohol and bad decisioning could blight their lives forever.

Maybe it’s because teenagers actively push us away, withdrawing, becoming secretive, lying – rejecting us, our love, our affection, our presence and refusing to be guided at a time when we feel they need it most.

But whatever the reason, when the teen years are rocky, the impact on parents can be overwhelming. We can feel shame – that our teens have turned out ‘badly’. And self-blame – that whatever they are going through and whichever mistakes they are making must be our fault. That we have failed them. We tried so hard to do our best in those first twelve years – but look who they have turned into. So ungrateful, so rude, so damaged. How could we have got it so wrong?

And we look around us and see other teens doing well. We stare at happy family snaps on social media of teens having dinner with their parents, or out for a walk with them, smiling – while our teenager won’t spend a moment longer with us than is necessary. We see other teenagers trying hard at school, being celebrated for this or that achievement. Or just managing to get up every morning and functioning.

When every word we exchange with our teen boils over into an argument, parents of teens don’t tell anyone.

When they scream at us to “F*** OFF!”, we are glad no-one heard.

When they tell us they hate themselves and we can’t sleep from worrying, we talk to our loved ones. But they just tell us not to worry.

When we have to sit and hold them for hours because they are hurting and can’t get through this moment by themselves, we reach out to friends. But too often encounter judgement not understanding. And, without an outlet for our grief and fear, we grow ashamed and isolated and feel like we are failing.

If you are the parent of a teenager reading this without recognising it, I salute you. I envy you.

If you are the parent of a teen who has tears running down your face, or a lurch in your chest, I want you to know that you are not alone. And that it will not always be like this.

If you need somewhere to talk, there is a place you can go. Whatever Together is an online peer support community for parents of teenagers. It is a safe, anonymous space where you can find like-minded parents who will listen to you – without judging – and share their own experiences honestly.

In the Whatever Together community, you will find parents of teenagers with anxiety, depression and eating disorders. Parents of teens who are doing all the wrong things and refusing to listen to advice. Parents of teens who hate school or who can’t engage in learning. Parents who are at their wits’ end. And parents who have come out the other side.

A community of parents to buoy you up in the difficult moments and help you keep on showing up for your teenager – whatever you are going through.

Whatever Together logo


Whatever Together is a social purpose enterprise founded by Anita Cleare and Nicky Runeckles through a crowdfunding campaign in 2019.

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