To the mother whispering through gritted teeth to her teenage daughter in the checkout line at Costco . . . 

To the father up at two in the morning when his son sneaks through the front door, trying to think through the combination of anger and relief . . . 

To all the parents who feel like they did something wrong, that they made a misstep along the way, who are struggling with all the guilt that comes along with having a struggling teen . . . 

You aren’t alone.

Every fight leaves you feeling exhausted and defeated. As you watch the red-faced, screaming person in front of you, you start to wonder, “Is this really my child?” He’s like a stranger, so far removed from the little bundle you held in your arms, the toddler you watched take her first steps, the little one you kissed goodbye on his first day of kindergarten.

You don’t know how things got so bad. One day this child was a perfectly normal little boy or girl who loved to spend time with you and trusted you with all her hopes, dreams, and secrets. This was the child you had dreamed about. The little person who would grow up to understand everything you did was for him.

Then things started to change, slowly at first. There were behavioral problems at home and then at school. Promises that homework and chores being done, only to find out those promises were lies. These incidents were followed by bouts of anger, secretiveness, late nights, fights, and one shocking revelation after another.

You try everything to help but nothing seems to work: punishments, rewards, therapy, begging, pleading. You begin to wonder how it can get any worse, and then suddenly it does. You want to help but don’t know how anymore. So you start your search online, reading article after article, with the photos of smiling families looking down on you.

It’s frustrating to read parenting articles because it always feels like you are somehow missing the magic ingredient that makes other families perfect. You catch yourself saying, “I’ve already tried that” as you read along. Yet you keep looking anyway, in the hopes that you uncover the secret that will make your family whole again.

It isn’t just the anger and frustration that beats you down. It is the anxiety. You want so badly to have a peaceful home and you feel like a failure when you can’t create one. You are terrified about what it will mean for your family. Most of all, you are terrified about what it will mean for your child and his or her future.

There is something that you—all of you—need to know: you have value. You are a good parent. Most of all, you need to know that it will get better. The fights won’t last forever, so keep those angry words inside. That way, in the future, you can laugh with your adult children over the incidents, rather than hash out past old and hurtful fights.

No force in the world is as strong as the love parents have for their children. The bond is insurmountable, something almost paranormal in its nature, and you can cling to that bond of love even as your child tries to deny its reality.

While it may seem at the moment to be hopeless, promise yourself these things. You will never give up trying. You will always hold a candle alight in your heart for your child, no matter how dark the night becomes. And one day, maybe in hours, or days, or months, or years, your child will come back to that light.

Until then, keep it bright.

You may also like: 

Your Teen Will Break Your Heart—But I Promise, You’ll Survive

The Mental Load of Mothering a Teen

Dear Teenager, I’m in it for the Long Haul

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Tyler Jacobson

Tyler Jacobson is a father, husband, and freelancer, with experience in writing and outreach for organizations that help troubled teen boys and parents. He likes to offer relatable, humorous, and research-backed advice to readers on parenting teenagers, education, social media, and mental health. During his free time, Tyler enjoys taking his family into the mountains to connect with a simpler side of life which he finds grounding and rejuvenating.