Time, open communication, compromise and consistency.
Those are just a few things families in West Des Moines discussed when opening up about the challenges and rewards of raising teens in today’s society. Here are their stories.
Raising good adults
When it’s come to raising their children, Trish and Jeff Bach have always tried to keep the future in mind.
The central question they keep coming back to, Jeff Bach says, is this: “Are we raising people who are going to be good adults?” For the Bachs, that translates to individuals who are responsible, respectable, kind, gracious and generous.
To accomplish this, part of the Bachs’ strategy includes mutual respect, open communication and consistency. They have four kids: Gracie, 15; Casey and Connor, 14; and Katy, who will be 13 at the end of the month.
“I think our overall philosophy has really been trying to deal with them in a respectful way,” says Jeff, and he and his wife expect the same in return.
Making the most of their time to connect and talk with one another is a priority for the Bachs. That takes different forms — from sharing what happened that day over dinner to heart-to-heart conversations in the car.
“I’m very, very fortunate in that my position with my company allows me to work out of my house,” says Jeff. It offers him the flexibility to be there when the kids get up in the morning and to take them to school and their activities.
They’ve worked to foster an environment of open communication since their kids were little. That includes clearly defining boundaries and expectations, explaining the reasoning behind their decisions and consistently following through with consequences.
For example, when Trish learned that one of their kids was behind on several assignments for a class, his phone and game privileges were taken away until he was caught up.
“We use consequences and choices a lot around here,” she says. “And your choices afford your consequences.”
Also important to the Bachs has been to curb their children’s sense of entitlement. They have made it clear that giving back to others is a priority, and their family is involved with several charities.
Their children say their relationships with their parents are strong. They can turn to them with personal or academic problems and feel supported in their sports and other activities.
“I don’t think there’s anything that we would change because our family is so well-bonded, and we love each other,” Katy says.
“We don’t do everything right, but I feel like if we’re going to sleep at night after raising thriving, kind adults, we’ve done our job,” Trish says.
Loosening the reins
There’s a tough balancing act when guiding your kids through their teen years, say parents Michael and Addy Gould.
The quandary: Giving them just enough freedom at the right times to help them become independent thinkers and successful adults.
The Goulds have three teenagers: Ann, 16; Thomas, 15; and Helen, 13. They’ve been intentional in loosening the reins a little more on Ann while she’s still in high school, Addy says, in preparation for when she’s on her own in college.
Being aware of what their kids are doing but not overly watching them is their No. 1 challenge, Michael says.
Keeping the lines of communication open — both between themselves and with their kids — has been critical during this time, the couple says.
Addy says it’s been important that she and Michael stay “connected and aligned,” checking in with one another to make sure that they’re on the same page.
They make sure they’re available when their teens want to talk. They’ve also made clear their expectations of them, as well as the reasons behind the decisions they make. As a Catholic family, they reinforce their beliefs with their kids, Addy says. Also, mutual respect for one another is expected. But they’ve been open to compromise in certain situations, too.
One thing that’s not up for debate is the role Addy plays in their kids’ lives. While they can talk to her about anything, including the latest fashion trends, she is, ultimately, the authority figure. That means she will veto those short shorts.
“I’m your mother,” she has said more times than her kids want to hear. “I’m not here to be your best friend.”
Helen says there’s nothing she would change about her relationship with her parents. She tells them everything and enjoys the routines they share.
Every night, they usually have dinner together and watch their shows on TV. Every Sunday, her dad makes waffles.
“My parents are pretty cool — or at least they try to be, and I like that,” says Helen. When they do have disagreements, she can get angry, at first. But after thinking about her parents’ reasons for their decision, she eventually agrees with them, Helen says.
“We’ve been very, very fortunate,” Michael says. “We have kids that really are good kids. I don’t think anyone is pushing the envelope yet. Maybe it’s still to come.”
The teenage years can be hectic time. But Addy reminds parents to enjoy their kids.
“Because, gosh, they’re going to be gone,” she says. “It goes so fast.”
Learn how your teens communicate best
Staying connected with your teenagers involves being available to talk whenever they are and learning how they best communicate, says Polly Maly.
She and her husband, Mark Maly, have two children: Claire is 18 and Cole is 20. Both have very different communication styles.
Maly worked from home as a freelancer for 10 years as a contributing editor for Meredith Corp. It afforded her a more flexible schedule to do things like volunteer at her kids’ schools and go on field trips, giving her more opportunities to talk with her kids.
As they grew up, their children formed distinct styles of communicating. For Claire, many conversations with her parents have taken place on the couch while they watch TV. Maly says making time to do that wasn’t always easy, especially when she needed to get a lot done.
But with Claire headed to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the fall, she’s taking all the couch time she can get.
“I’m very, very aware that in eight months she’s not going to be around to invite me, so I’m making even more of an effort to accept the invitation when it’s offered,” Maly says.
Texting is another major form of communication for Claire, who has a very busy schedule.
“You can still feel very connected, even through texting,” Maly says.
With Cole, many of their talks happened in the car.
“I had heard a long time ago the best time to talk to a boy was in the car when you’re both facing forward, to avoid eye contact,” laughs Maly.
Things changed when he became a high school senior. Cole started hanging out with them more, particularly in the kitchen, where he would settle into a cushy chair and talk with them, she says. That’s where many of their in-depth conversations took place, and still do, when he’s home from college.
What’s also helped Maly negotiate her children’s teen years are her faith, humor and having a tight-knit network of support.
“One of the things that’s worked for me is to have a trusted, nonjudgmental support group,” she says. “I think that has probably helped me the most — just having a small group of friends that were parenting at the same stage I was, and people you can just lay it all out with and be honest. A group like that will help you find the best in your child when you’re struggling with something. They’re the ones who will encourage you when you’re really discouraged.”
Finding some levity is also really helpful.
“The older your kids get, the problems get heavier,” Maly says. “If you’re going to be in the trenches with them and helping them navigate high school, precalculus and the decision of where to go to college, you have to be able to step back with them and have some fun.”
Claire says she talks to her parents pretty much about everything.
“It’s easy to get along with them and really easy to ask for help if you need it, anytime,” says Claire. “It’s a really open relationship.”
Other teens may not want their parents working at the same school they’re attending. It’s the total opposite for Claire, who goes to Valley High School, where her mom is the counseling center secretary. She loves that she can visit her mom conveniently if she’s having a bad day or needs a hug.
College, she predicts, will be a tough adjustment.
“I’m ready to go to college,” Claire says, “but not necessarily ready to leave my parents.”