Parenting teenagers as difficult as raising a baby according to experts - but would you go to 'teenatal' classes?

Conversation around raising teens is in the spotlight

Mother having serious conversation with teenage daughter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Experts believe raising a teen is just as demanding as caring for a baby. They call for parents of teens to have the same benefits as when they first gave birth, and we discuss this with parents going through this difficult parenting stage.

The conversation around parenting teens is really opening up, and understanding the impact of this stage of raising kids is so important. While dealing with a teen who will not socialise and wondering why your teenager won't talk to you anymore, mothers of teens are undergoing the process of demetrescence - the second transition of motherhood when your kids become teens and you're likely to be feeling your own hormonal storm.

The term 'demetrescence' was coined by parenting expert and GoodtoKnow resident pannelist, Sarah Ockwell-Smithin her new book, How to Raise a Teen. Sarah wants more understanding for the parents of teens, believing this stage of parenthood to be just as difficult as the early newborn era. Writing on Instagram to share a snippet of what to expect in her book, she says "Raising a teenager is arguably as difficult as raising a baby, but there are no teenatal classes, teenternity leave, teenternity pay, or parent and teen groups."

Sarah adds "Instead we're left to do it alone, with the presumption we know what we're doing and we no longer need support, which is partly why it's so very hard." The parenting expert believes a second round of maternity leave should be offered during the teenage years, and paid leave from work available if you're caring for a struggling teen. Sarah believes that juggling exam stress, heartbreak, friendship issues and all the other problems arising in this difficult time of life leaves parents stretched dangerously thin.

We asked Sarah to share further insight into the benefits of paid or unpaid leave for those raising teens, to bring home how important this is. She tells us, "Taking care of a teen is intense. We may get to 'sleep through the night', have left nappies and strollers behind us and our teen may now be able to get themselves a drink without our input, but the emotional load of raising them is so heavy.

When our children are little we worry about things like tantrums over cutting their sandwiches into the wrong shapes, or because we won't buy them a £10 toy, but when they are teenagers we worry about them dying when they drive their car alone or go out at night with their friends. We worry about them vaping, taking drugs, drinking alcohol, having unprotected sex and failing their exams. We have to nurture them through heartbreak, the loss of a friendship, bullying and social exclusion and the effects on their mental health.

The problems get far bigger the bigger children get and yet we are expected to work as if we don't even have children. There is no childcare for teens, no summer clubs, no creches. Child and adolescent mental health services have waiting lists of over a year and we have to try to balance all of this with traversing the peri-menopause, getting older and achier, and often caring for elderly parents with increasing care needs. We are stretched so thin that we regularly snap and society doesn't recognise any of it. Parents of teens are tired, physically and emotionally and need a break."

"The problems get far bigger the bigger children get and yet we are expected to work as if we don't even have children. There is no childcare for teens, no summer clubs, no creches."

Sarah Ockwell-Smith

Sarah continues to broach the beneficial impact of 'teenatal classes' where parents of teens could meet to discuss teen brain development and trouble-shoot any problems - just like you would've done at postnatal group when your kids were tiny. Realistic expectations, a collection of parenting tools at your disposal and a much-needed army of fellow parents in the same position to lean on for support is preferable to floundering in the dark feeling alone and overwhelmed. 

When we spoke to Sarah, we asked for more details about teenatal classes, and she shares "When we are expecting we learn about birth and babycare in antenatal classes, often provided for free by the NHS. After the birth we are provided with information leaflets, baby weigh-ins, and can call our midwife or health visitor for advice. We meet up with our antenatal pals and swap stories and support. 

When you have a teenager there is nothing, which is why society is so misinformed about raising them. The only snippets of information we get are snatched from online discussion groups, where the advice is not evidence based and often authoritarian. If parents understood teen brain development and didn't mistakenly blame everything on hormones and bad attitude everyone would be happier, parents and teens." 

Amanda is a mum of three teens. She completely agrees that teenatal classes should be available, telling us, "Once I had all three children at secondary school, I'd planned to go back to university and re-train as a sports physiotherapist. I had lofty dreams of starting my own practice with a series of other practitioners and alternative therapists - a real sanctuary. But I didn't make it to university. The children needed me more than they ever did, and I struggled so much to meet the needs of three teens, I ended up needing therapy. I would've jumped at the chance to meet with other parents going through the same challenges."

Mum-of-two, Lucy, hopes there will be support in place once her tweens become teens. She shares, "My 10-year-old already alternates between being a ball of rage, crying his eyes out, and being the sweetest most loving child. I can't imagine how things will look when he properly hits the teen years. When he was a baby I always felt I knew what he wanted intuitively, and didn't struggle to soothe him at all. Even though he is fully able to communicate now he's older, I'm absolutely baffled about what he really needs and how to help him. I really hope there's support for this coming in the next few years."

It appears this level of support could be a long way off though. It's fantastic these conversations are becoming mainstream, but progress to make positive change is usually painfully slow. Sarah concludes her post "Alas - we have none of this. Society seems to think parenting support is only necessary for the first three to five years. I think it's time we spoke up and demanded better! In the last few years middle-aged women have made huge strides in getting the menopause and peri-menopause spoken about - now it's time to get more awareness of midlife parenting/raising teens." 

For more on raising teens, experts share how to talk to a teenager and how to let yours take positive risks. You could try reflective parenting to help your teen work through their big emotions.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.