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  • Lori K Walters

Navigating Unknown Territory: Insights for Parents of Teens

Updated: Mar 26

If you’re the parent of a young adult, you often find yourself facing new situations. Every stage brings something new to work through, something new to learn about ourselves. From high school algebra to driving to jobs, it’s a constant flow. Well, not really a flow, more like a series of jarring bumps and unexpected wobbles.

And sometimes it’s pretty shocking jolts. One minute you’re walking down your street, you blink and suddenly you’re in new territory. Your child gets evicted from their apartment or asks for anxiety meds - you’re thrown into a different landscape.

You feel lost.

Woman looking at map in the forest

Believe me, I know this one. My world shifted during a three-minute call from our doctor. My teenager was sick, it couldn’t be handled in our hospital and we were being airlifted to Vancouver. In two hours!

What did I know about this disease? Nothing. What experience did I have in a big city hospital system? None. Did I know anyone who had dealt with this kind of situation? Nope. Could someone accompany me? No. At every turn, I was faced with the fact that I would have to navigate this on my own.

I felt disoriented, unequipped and the most scared I’ve been in my life.

Whether life-threatening or not, the changes in our kids’ lives as they become adults are BIG. We find ourselves trekking unknown terrain and have no choice but to figure it out, even when our hearts are breaking wide open. Even when we are full of rage or grief. Even if we are terrified.

And so often, when we are feeling lost, we are encouraged to stay with the discomfort. But what does that actually look like?

How do you stay connected to your central core of knowing when you’re lost in unfamiliar territory?

Sometimes I like to look at things quite literally. I mean, what would you do if you blinked your eyes and, all of a sudden, you were in a dense forest of strange blue trees?

Your first instinct would be to check for danger. You would instantly engage your senses to their utmost, scan the scene meticulously and listen carefully for any immediate threat to your life.

Does this apply to parenting teens? I think so. Your child has just provoked a confrontation at work, failed algebra or wrecked the car. Ok. Check. These are not life-threatening.

Your second instinct would be trying to figure out how to go home. How did this happen and how do I get out of here?

But if the car is already wrecked, if your son has already accused his boss of unlawful treatment, there is no going back. Parenting always flows forward. From first bike rides to first dates. Always forward.

And there would be no reason for self-blame. You didn’t head for this unusual forest. You didn’t lose a duel or offend the emperor. The fact is, you have never been here before. Of course, you’re lost. Of course.

Third instinct? Attending to basic human needs for shelter, food and water. Similarly, when thrown into the land of HR battles, failing grades or apartment evictions, it’s important to take care of your basic self care – body, heart and spirit.

· Tend your body.

Part of you might be loudly insisting that you get in there and respond - fix things, say how upset you are, make some calls - right now! But, since there is no immediate life-threatening danger, you’re better off to focus on bolstering your own resourcefulness, before trying to solve anything.

Connect with your sage self and attend to your current need for grounding. What do you need? Laying on the floor? A quick walk outside? A five minute meditation or nourishing snack?

At the least, you can stop and breathe. Feel yourself in your body. Turn down the volume on the voice that’s urging you to respond instantly. Feel yourself here and now.

Resourcefulness awakens in the pause. Give it space to come through for you. And give yourself the best possible chance of finding your way through the unfamiliar landscape in a way you’ll be proud of later.

· Look after your heart.

Whether it’s losing an apartment or struggling with anxiety, there’s no doubt that your emotions are bubbling up. Allow for them to rise, crest and fall. It only takes 90 seconds. Notice what’s there – rage, fear, disappointment, shock, dread, insecurity, aggravation, powerlessness... Such natural things to be feeling.

And can you sense what lies beneath that? Perhaps a wound from your own adolescence, a concern about what someone else will think, a need for control or something else. Acknowledge the landscape of your heart.

Then put your hands on your chest. Soothe your beautiful, loyal heart.

This is self-care.

And then there’s more space in your heart. And you can bring love into the new picture. Connect with your deep love for this child. Ignite your compassion for their clumsy attempts at adulting. Allow things to be the way they are in this moment.

· Support your spirit.

After I threw a few clothes into my suitcase, I stopped at my bedroom altar and asked for support. I connected to the elements of nature, the pines, the river, the deer, the mountain lion to travel with me. I called upon my ancestors and all the parents who have gone before me to help me be brave and openhearted. I gathered the love of my women’s circle into my wish to act with wisdom, compassion and grace. A small amethyst crystal pulsed - I put it in my suitcase, of course.

Whatever your beliefs and practices, know that support is always flowing toward you. So open your hands and heart to receive it.

When you tend to your most important needs, you will navigate unknown territory more adroitly and agilely.

Your rational mind will engage, seeking perspective and information. You will look for a hill you could climb for a better vantage point. Can algebra be repeated next semester? Does the car insurance cover this? You will study the flora, fauna and weather and start filling in the blanks. All done from a grounded place.

Your heart will be open to the newness. More presence to your emotions, riding the waves and seeing what can be learned here.

Your spirit will be warm and lustrous, exploring the mystery with faith, trust and discernment.


And now you are speaking to your young adult child in a way that promotes, rather than damages, your relationship. You are acting in your integrity. You are fostering a loving and trusting connection and creating a positive memory for you both.

And you are shining love from your heart to theirs and down the line to your grandchildren and future generations of families here on earth.

With you on the journey,




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