Be the kind of parent you aspire to be (and maybe wish you‘d had)
Parenting teenagers can be really hard and often times ungratifying. (I know that’s not really a word, but you know what I mean – sucky, or just not getting any of your wishes met and not being gratified in any way as a parent. Disheartening and displeasing.)
The challenges and negativity can feel relentless. Aggravating. So tiresome. Endless, and you know, just ungratifying…
But you know in your heart of hearts it doesn’t have to be this difficult. You know you’re a good parent, and you’ve got a good kid…If only she could be more responsible, or he could have less attitude…
Maybe you’ve had one too many conflicts with your teenager this summer and you feel pretty exasperated at this point. You are so sick and tired of repeating the same lectures to him or her, over and over, and getting no cooperation. Your teenage child has made another bad decision (not turned in school work, gotten poor grades, picked on their younger sibling relentlessly, lied or distorted the truth about where they were, not cleaned up after themselves, hung out and gotten in trouble with friends who are bad influences, not taken responsibility for negative behaviors, etc.).
Or maybe you feel really wounded by their ugly attitude or the obnoxious disrespect that they seem to freely throw your way. Your feelings are mostly hurt, but actually, that just makes you feel madder at them. It sucks to be not appreciated for all that you do and then raged at on top of that. You may wonder (or resent) ‘How can they be so ungrateful when they have so much, and I work so damn hard?’
You are so tempted to throw your hands up and pull away so they can see for themselves once and for all, the difficulty or how hard it is to take care of themselves. You are no longer interested in being the parent because it’s so unrewarding and maddening most of the time. You have fantasies of banishing them from your household and letting them fend for themselves, never to bother you again and figuring it out on their own. They have let you down so many times.
You may be struggling with your own bitterness, anger, frustration, disappointment and feel like those negative feelings are causing you lots of stress and eating you alive. You know It’s not good for your health to be marinating in these feelings day after day. You can’t stand feeling like this.
Well, the good news is that it is possible to move through this time of discontent. This too shall pass.
The bad news is that you can’t make it go away instantaneously. So, to make it a little gentler and bearable on you (the person who wants to parent more positively), I have a few suggestions…
The main thing is to be mindful of your feelings, thoughts, actions. Strive to be responsive rather than matching your teen’s reactivity.
First, honor your own feelings. Do a RAIN practice for yourself:
Recognize what you’re feeling (discouragement, rage, sadness, fear)
Allow those feelings to simply be present. This is what is right now.
Investigate with kindness. What’s underneath these feelings? How are you treating yourself about these feelings? What does this feel like? Get to know your feeling rather than dismiss it.
Nurture whatever is needed. Maybe place a warm hand on your heart and breathe in kind attention.
Find a positive way to express your emotions. Or take a break and breathe until you are calmer and ready to talk. Know the damage that kids can go through to be the recipient of those negative feelings that too often might be expressed in a negative way (feeling not liked, not good enough, disconnected, angry – which inevitably goes inward in a self-destructive way, or outward in an aggressive other-destructive way.)
Do your best to remember that your teen’s anger or unappealing behavior is partly a cover-up for some shame or sorrow that he’s feeling inside, but can’t adequately articulate. And remember that grownups are like that too.
Here are some questions to reflect upon for yourself as you try to feel better about your parenting and try to improve the harmony in the household. It’s important to take some time and maybe even journal the answers to these questions, to give yourself time for consideration, before engaging in another argument with your teenager. Remember, the time you invest in tending to and having compassion for your own feelings and experiences will be meaningful in having more understanding and ease in your relationship with your teen.
- What are you proudest of in your parenting?
- What are your strengths as a parent?
- What’s the last time you felt like you were being the kind of parent you wanted to be, and felt close to your child? What was going on?
- What’s hard for you in parenting (or step-parenting)?
- What kind of relationship do you aspire to have with your teen? What kind of parent do you have to be to have that? Make that your intention.
- What was your relationship like with your parents when you were a teen? Are you close to one or the other of your parents? Yes, or no, what impacted that?
- What do you appreciate and/or resent that your parents did, that helped you or hurt you?
- When did you first notice you felt disappointed by your teen?
- What are you aware of, about yourself that makes you not so easy to live with? And how have you tried to change or improve upon that?
- What are your hopes for this teen? What are your fears?
- What would you most love to hear from him/her?
- What do you wish he understood better about you?
- How do you make apologies, or like to be apologized to? How would you prefer to be approached by your teen?
- What kind of support do you need to be a happier parent?
After spending some time checking in with yourself about your feelings around parenting, consider these tips:
- Don’t come AT your child/teen. Try to come alongside him or her.
- Don’t be a lie–invitee. Make it safe to express vulnerability, making mistakes, confusion.
- Love the child you have and don’t punish him for not being the child you wish you had.
- Listening deeply builds an open heart; it humanizes your teen.
- Look at what you might be doing that’s contributing to the problem.
- Reflect thoughtfully on how you were raised and see how much of that you want to repeat.
- When you shame a child, it makes his anger grow (inwardly or outwardly). Pay attention to the words coming out of your mouth or your actions that might be shaming her.
- Take care of your own self so you can be your best self when doing the hard work of parenting and not make things worse. Try to do no harm.
- Give reasonable “punishment“ for the crime. Give an opportunity to earn privileges back, by acting responsibly and humanely.
- Kids lie because they feel they’ve lost the connection (lost the feeling of being loved; or they want to appear good so they won’t lose your love; or they’ve lost some sense of security in who they are) – Acknowledge how hard and courageous it is to tell the truth. Check in with your own distortions of truth. Ask how you can help them to own their truth, even when it’s uncomfortable.
- Show them how to, and model yourself healthy ways of handling discomfort (not self-medicating or zoning out; yes, articulating their feelings, asking for support, being in nature, having compassion, not believing thoughts, building resilience, pausing so they can calm themselves down, etc).
So thank you for reading this far. That means that even though you might be feeling frustrated, you have not given up on your teen, or on yourself. Clearly, you have it in you to keep being the good and courageous parent that you are.
I’d love to hear what your thoughts are about how to parent your teen and not lose your own sanity. It’s really important work that you’re doing and you deserve kind awareness about that.
If you or someone you care about is struggling in parenting or being parented, please contact me for a parenting or adolescent therapy appointment.
For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.