When our teens are slinging attitude and accusation, it is easy to take it personally. We either can be pulled into defending our selves or criticizing them. There are those ‘WHATEVER’ looks, the ‘you don’t know anything’ proclamations and the seemingly hateful or disgusted tones of voice that can set off a battle over just about anything.
But what are our teens really communicating? When we put aside the age-old joke that they know everything at 15 and we know nothing, what is really going on?
My teenage years were some of the hardest of my life. My parents were constantly fighting and then divorced. My mom was so caught up in her own hurt, fear, anger and confusion that she had no patience for my sisters and me. Meanwhile, my body was changing, my focus was in being a part of something (anything) other than my family, and my desire to figure out my own identity was overwhelming.
As teens we are egocentric and with good reason. So much is going on, there is the fear of what our peers thinks, what we look like, and who are friends are. It is a time of life where we are ‘individuating’ and that requires us to push away from our parents and test the boundaries that have been set for us. We are the center because we are trying to figure ourselves out.
As parents, we are also negotiating how to transition from the hands on ‘coaching’ where we give our kids the play by play of what they are to do, when and how, to the ‘trainer’ approach of giving some basic direction and then standing on the sidelines, giving them enough rope to make mistakes and yet ready to wrap and bandage them when they get hurt.
It is a confusing time for all involved.
Add to this the challenges of single parenting. We are spinning so many plates, trying to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, balancing work and family life. Perhaps attempting to explore companionship or figuring out how to weave a new man into the fabric of our lives. (I could go on.)
Learning to let the attitude and harsh words go and to look beneath the surface at what is going on with our teens, is a recipe for building a lasting intimate relationship with the ones we love the most. But how do you do that when you are tired and overwhelmed and feeling attacked???
I learned that when my children most push my buttons, it is MY button more than his or her words that are the source of both my pain and a sign of where I continue to need healing. After being in an abusive relationship, when my son began to verbally attack me, I responded as if he was his dad…but he is not. What I found was that I still had healing to do, boundaries to learn to set, a voice and confidence still to develop.
As I looked at my part (get the message – my button and release the messenger – my teen), I began to RESPOND instead of react to him and he in turn responded to me. I could acknowledge and validate his views or frustrations without agreeing with them and calmly set boundaries. I could communicate with love and hear his heart instead of his words.
Today my relationship with my 17-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter is incredible. We have our moments and it is not always (perhaps even rarely) easy. But there is open communication and mutual respect and the foundation for a healthy relationship.
Bonus: By purposefully creating a healthy relationship with our teens, we provide them the invaluable gift of knowing what healthy relationships look and feel like. What greater gift can we provide them?