Everyone thinks that it’s hard to maintain work-life balance with infants, and there are even people who think you shouldn’t go back to work during your child’s early years. Those people have never had teenagers. 

Not only is your infant physically unable to stay out until all hours with friends or talk to strangers on the internet yet, as long as they’re being cared for properly and you’re fostering secure attachments, they’re going to be fine. Your teenager, on the other hand, needs more guidance and support if they’re going to successfully navigate the challenges of adolescence. And that’s when things get difficult.

The Trouble With Teens

As the CEO of the New America Foundation and author of the controversial 2012 article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Anne-Marie Slaughter knows all about the difficulties of balancing work and teenagers. It’s so difficult that Slaughter left a dream job in the State Department working under Hillary Clinton to spend more time at home with her teenage son. Though her husband was in the picture, that wasn’t enough because, as she puts it, “Toddlers just hand you an empty juice box to get rid of, but teenagers hand you an emotional package to deal with… And the significance of that package is profound.” 

Teenagers are going through all sorts of emotional and physical growing pains,and without sufficient parental involvement, it’s easy for teens to fall in with the wrong crowd. They may be more vulnerable to peer pressure, including pressure to use drugs or alcohol or engage in risky sexual activities. Teens may also display the first signs of mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, and may struggle with bullying, body image issues, and low self-esteem.

Rethinking Your Relationship

Obviously most working mothers can’t step away from work because their teenager is having a tough time, the way Slaughter was able to, but that doesn’t mean your relationship should remain unchanged. In fact, it’s an important time to focus on your relationship with your teen to ensure that you’re able to have open and honest conversations about difficult issues.

Teen alcohol use, for example, is a very common problem, with young people between 12 and 20 years old consuming 11% of alcohol in the United States – and there are a number of reasons why teens drink. Some drink simply to fit in, while others teens use alcohol to self-medicate, dulling problems at home or at school, or striving to overcome social anxiety. The earlier teens begin drinking alcohol, the more likely they are to have substance abuse issues down the road.

The only way to address common issues like alcohol and drug use is to have ongoing conversations about the topic, and they can’t just be you talking. In fact, listening can be more important than talking,and you need to keep an open mind when talking to your teen. The minute your teenager feels that they’re being judged, they’ll shut down and stop telling you things. Little kids tend to overshare personal information, but teens hold it all back. They may be more likely to talk to you about a relevant TV show, about a friend’s problems, or while engaged in another activity.

Adjusting Around Teens

Just because you can’t stop working to see your teen through adolescence, there are small things you can do to spend extra time with them. For example, if you have to travel frequently for work, consider turning those work trips into vacations. Even if it’s just a day at the beach and a dinner out, little trips are an opportunity for teens and parents to see each other in a new light. 

Another way to spend more time with your teens is by spending time working together. Teens today spend a lot of time doing homework, especially if they’re in advanced classes, so if you’re prepping a project for work, invite your teen to work alongside you. It’s a good way to keep track of what your teen is doing and keep them on task,and they can also learn a little more about you as a person, not just a parent.

Teens aren’t necessarily hurt by having working parents, just as infants aren’t necessarily damaged by having a mother who goes back to work soon after their birth – that’s all bad science and hype. What really hurts teens is not having an open and honest connection with their parents and feeling isolated. Being a working mother can actually help teens develop into independent, resilient adults, but they need you to fall back on along the way.