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Ace Advice From 10+ Moms Of Awesome Teens

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Sheri Evans and Sasha Berliner, Photographed by Michelle Drewes

Have you ever encountered a mother of older kids—teens, early twenty-somethings—and wondered how she raised them to be so polite, intelligent, driven, and just all-around awesome? We certainly have, and below we’ve asked several inspiring mothers of teens to share their tips, tricks, and general wisdom.

Sheri Evans, Metier co-owner and mother of Cole, 19, and Sasha, 18.
“A.Sense.Of.Humor! You have to let them make some mistakes on their own even when you so badly want to say ‘Don’t do that!’ Really listen to what they have to say, let them talk. A lot of time they just want an ear, not you telling them what they should do…unless they ask. This is still so hard for me. Support their interests, even if you don’t totally understand those interests. Set some boundaries, whether it’s about attitude, time with the family, or helping clean-up. All of this takes time and effort, don’t think because they’re older and more independent, you don’t have to put the work in anymore. The work is just different.”

Lisa Addario, screenwriter, director, and mother of Lulu, 15, and Augie, 14.
“I guess my biggest thing has always been to have a very open, welcoming home for our friends and our kids’ friends. My sisters and I were raised that way, where our house was the ‘hangout house,’ the door was always open, there were tons of friends and food and love and laughter. I used to cook for a living. I love to feed people that I care about and I’ve tried to instill that generous spirit in my children. When I was a teenager, it was so much more fun to have friends over and hang out at home rather than go to random parties or whatever. I think my kids are turning out the same way. Our house is never empty. There’s a real sense of community and safety here, which I think works out for all of us.”

Jodie Patterson, beauty mogul, LGBTQ activist, and mother to Nain, 25, Georgia, 16, Cassius, 10, Penelope, 8, and Othello, 6.
“Sit back. Release your mama muscle. And allow yourself to have less control. It’s exactly what we’re not comfortable doing, but it’s the best thing for the growth of the relationship. Moms and teens need breathing space.”

Jess Brown, designer, rag doll maker, and mother to Stella, 17, and Tiger, 14.
“It’s the most challenging time to parent, for sure! You’re split between nurturing their independence and wanting to hold and guide them through every moment. Allowing and watching them fall so they can get back up, knowing that you can’t rescue them the way you did when they were small. It’s such a challenge as a mother. The number one thing I try to keep in the front of my mind is to just enjoy them and this time. This time is moving so incredibly fast, I can actually feel it. Keeping it light is what I strive for. Now that they are older, the boundaries have been set and they have developed into amazing people. I try to remember who they each are as individuals and not dig my heels in about the little things too often. We laugh a lot. Family dinners are still a must. We eat dinner as a family every night and we always have music going. There’s a lot of dancing in our kitchen. As the kids have gotten older, they’re not quite as into that, but we still have a happy little vibe. So, if my son walks by—even though he’s 14 and has headphones in—I’ll make him dance to Louis Prima while I’m cooking meatballs.”

Pat Smith, minister, philanthropist, author, and mother of Jasmine, 20, EJ, 14, Skylar, 13, and Elijah, 5.
“All moms need to be prepared for their kids’ hormones and emotions. Kids will say mean things that will hurt your feelings. Don’t take it personal, but don’t let them get away with it either. It’s important to remember you are the parent and they are the child. Before they get too busy, don’t forget to enjoy them. Have fun! Laugh, sit around together as a family, play games, watch a movie, enjoy a meal. Let them know how much their time with you is valued. Also, remember that they are going to go through stuff. Allow them to go through the journey and don’t try to rescue them from everything. Those are the moments that God can use to really make them great. The best advice I can offer a mom of a teenager is to find your own personal passion and engage. Don’t let their passions consume your own passions. It’s important to have other significant relationships in your life that give you fulfillment: husbands, family, girlfriends, you need other important relationships. Lastly, don’t forget to treasure you. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in their lives and forget about yourself.”

James Kicinski-McCoy, co-founder of Mother and mom to Julian, almost 16, Milla Plum, 13, Birdie, 5, and Sailor, 4.
“Make it safe. And by ‘make it safe,’ I mean allow your children to feel completely comfortable to come to you with anything. And by anything, I mean absolutely anything—no topic is off limits. It’s much better than them going elsewhere with their questions, needs, and struggles. Listen, keep an open mind, offer your best motherly advice, don’t judge, and be real. You can be a good mom who means business who is also a trusted confidant. Set realistic boundaries, allow their friends into your home, and get to know their circles. You’d be surprised how simple it can be to achieve a smooth-sailing relationship with your kids. That doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps in the road, there will be. But they will be much easier to get past. The teenager stage is my favorite so far (knock on wood!). Don’t be scared.”

Martha Davis, shoe and bag designer and mom of Cesar, 19.
“Be honest, be strong, and be human. My parents’ tactic was, ‘You are going to do what I tell you because I am the parent and you are the child.’ That so did not work for me and taught me to say one thing and do the exact opposite. I believe as parents it’s our job to teach our kids how to evaluate situations and make the right choices—even if they are the hard ones. Also, don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I made a mistake.’ Let them learn that it’s okay to fail and important to accept it.”

Shawn Burke, bag designer, makeup artist, and mother of Oscar, 17, and Coleman, 19.
“Parenting during the teen years is nothing short of intense. It reminds me most of the toddler years in a weird way because all of a sudden you have to really start reiterating all the boundaries and limits over and over. There is also always a little bit of an urgency to how you parent during this time because you see how short your window is to get in all those last-minute life lessons before they fly the coop. I have realized that in some ways the post-home teen years are another level of parenting, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself during their time at home to get it all in. You have to trust that all that work you put in in the beginning years when you had more daily control over them will pay off during these teen years. That said, I find that humor is so important and will get you through the toughest challenges. Sports and the arts are so great to keep some of the crazy hormones and emotions in check and frankly if they are busy with interesting obligations, there is less room to get into trouble. I have had a lot of my most amazing and revealing conversations with my sons while driving. The lesson being—never underestimate the power of side-by-side, non-eye-contact talks. I have sometimes learned more than I even wanted to know! This also holds true for the dining table—sitting down as a family for meals is another great way to gain access to your teenager’s reality. Finally, the best part about teen times is that you start to be able to share common interests that you both truly enjoy. My older son just invited me to a Jonathan Franzen lecture and we had a great time breaking it all down afterwards. And my younger son loves to thrift shop and totally trusts me to dress him in weird cool outfits. Also, try to maintain a group of women and men friends who are also parenting teens. It’s weird how quickly all the moms groups and easy trading of tips and experiences stops during the middle and high school years. In my opinion, that’s when parents need community most. I have a number of friends who are in the teen zone and it’s so, so helpful to have a glass of wine and share our crazy ups and downs on this wild ride we call parenting.”

Wendy Polish, Le Feu De L’Eau co-founder and mother to Logan, 15.
“My husband and I were young when we had our daughter and we didn’t have the resources for nannies or assistants. When I reflect on the last 15 years of parenting, I am grateful for every single day we spent raising her. It allowed us to be close and stay close. We put in the time as parents since the day she was born and cultivated a good human. In return we have respect for one another and she is secure with herself. There is no negativity or issues because we provided a strong emotional and physical foundation. Now she is a teenager and we have fun and enjoy one another!”

Tasha Kusama, artist and mother to Haile, 15, and Skylar, 17.
“Really see them and let them be themselves. My daughters have two very different personalities and temperaments. I try my best to be in tune with who they are amongst all the flux. Between 14 and 17, it’s ever changing. They are navigating their own person, questioning you, and everything around them. I want them to be themselves and explore and be free, but with that I always remind them to be mindful, aware, and safe. It’s a fine line between letting go and still wanting to hold their hand. It’s not easy. Being a mom of teens requires a bit of being ‘on’ all the time. There have been ups and downs, but when it comes down to it, it’s always love. I let them know that I love and support them, no matter what.”

Deborah Bishop, writer and mother to twins Wes and Sasha, 14.
“We are a kind of sticky family. We spar, to be sure, but we spend a lot of time together, on trips, watching stupid television, having dinner (most every night), and just hanging out. I think it’s important to create a safe place from where kids can embark and return to, physically and metaphorically. When they ask tough questions (‘Have you ever smoked pot?’ ‘Have you ever had an abortion?’), we try to be honest with them, painting the world in shades of grey rather than the black and white absolutes that are easier to proclaim but harder to defend. Also: Empathy. Empathy. Empathy. When I feel frustration with one of my kids, or am taken aback by a harsh response to me or to the world at large, I try to tap into what it was like to be that age. I can summon that feeling of being overwhelmed and powerless and perennially misunderstood. I think the arts offer kids a wider context for how to view the world and how to see themselves in it. Today, my daughter is immersed in ballet, and my son is a serious performer of musical theater and now songwriting. For them, sports wasn’t an outlet of interest, but the performing arts has offered them similar opportunities of being part of something bigger than themselves, while instilling discipline and widening their social spheres. This, in turn, gives them more options on how to define themselves— as their peer groups take on more and more importance in the teen years they aren’t so rigidly confined by just one group. Don’t rush to banish boredom. Boredom can lead to creativity, if there is not a rush to fill the void. Holding off on some electronics and imposing limits can lead to a situation where the kids create their own limits, because they’ve built other muscles they can rely on—whether it’s reading, playing music, or just actively daydreaming. Finally, embrace eccentricity. Social media exacerbates the idea that there is a right way to look, dress, behave, and participate. Offering your kids other examples, drawn from literature, movies, and real life, expands the possibilities for what it means to be human as they try on and discard identities — which, I think, is a lifelong endeavor.”

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