How to Deal With Your Teenager

 Once upon a time you had a smaller child who loved to hang around you. Your child would leap at you when you came in the door with happy chatter and follow you around the house. This child also deeply enjoyed when the two of you would cuddle and snuggle. This child lived to simply be in your presence. This child was a dog.

Now you have a bigger child. A teenage child. This child doesn’t often come when you call unless it’s for food. This child can be indifferent towards you and want to be left alone. Sometimes you can touch this child but he or she may snap at you if you try to touch them when they mysteriously don’t feel like being touched one minute after they seemed to enjoy it. This child is a cat.

As parents we get quickly accustomed to the fact that our children come into the world like puppies. An ancient part of us understands their mammalian needs for milk and warmth and closeness. This dog life goes on for years and years. Even though they bark and bite sometimes we understand their dog-ness and cherish it.

When it dawns on us that our dog has been replaced by a cat, our reactions can be extreme.  We might panic, “what the hell happened to the dog in this house?” Or become angry, “who took my dog!?”  Or even pleading, “I never asked for this lazy cat!” We might feel like someone pulled a sudden mean trick on us. Nobody warned us! There was never any discussion about the invisible transformation that apparently took place right underneath our noses.

Moms and dads can long for their long-lost dogs. They can experience bouts of grief as they think about the good-old-days, the days when their dog-child was predictable and friendly. Most parents also feel confusion; they know they are supposed to want this new cat-child and that the arrival of this individual signals a turn in the natural direction of development and maturity, yet it’s difficult to shake the feeling that they were blind-sided and currently their family is floating up sh*t creek. Another common reaction is anger, as the cat-child seems to care much less what we parents think and she or he is no longer trying to win our affections by doing such things as responding when we speak to them or coming home when we ask them to.

What is a parent to do with their grief, confusion, and anger?

First of all, notice it. Notice that you are experiencing some new feelings in relation to your kid. This emotional awareness is absolutely the key to parenting success. Reassure yourself that your human emotions are fine and normal; they do not necessarily mean that anything bad is happening or that you aren’t rocking it as a mom or dad.

Secondly, own your emotions. For example, your teen may have slept in on a school day and missed an important test, which disappoints you and/or pisses you off. She or he is responsible for that mistake and ideally s/he needs to own it, perhaps by saying something like, “it’s my fault for staying up so late on my phone last night. I need to set 2 alarms from now on and go in to school early tomorrow to write the test.” You are responsible for any feelings you have about this, as in: you need to handle your feelings responsibly and not spray them all over your teen. Ask yourself, ‘if my spouse slept in and missed an important meeting at the office, would I complain to him/her about what a disappointment s/he was?’

Third, remember that you are in completely uncharted territory; this young person has never been the age that they are now, and you have never parented this person before at the age they are now. It is okay to fumble around a bit. Even if other parents seem to have it more together, believe me when I say that we are all in the same boat.

And lastly, remind yourself as often as you need to that this whole teenage-thing is temporary, just like so many of the previous stages of child development you have already weathered. Your son or daughter will outgrow being a cat, I promise, just like they outgrew being a dog. I recall the huge relief I felt when my son’s 2-year molars grew in (about 16 years ago) after months of sleep troubles and irritability. When it finally happened he seemed like a completely different kid! Suddenly my sunny tot was back and I could notice that his earlier unhappiness wasn’t because I was failing at motherhood.

Stay tuned to this website for more parenting tips and inspiration. It’s a heck of a lot easier to enjoy a strange ride with good company on board.


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Getting Clear on What You Want

001Conflict happens much of the time because we want something or we don’t want something. Maybe we want to change a process or maintain the status quo when someone else is attempting to initiate a change. The only reason we are in conflict in these situations is because it matters to us; if we didn’t care there would be no conflict.

“A lot of people are afraid to ask for what they want that’s why they don’t get what they want.” -Madonna

But sometimes we find ourselves faced with a decision or a dilemma and we don’t know what we want. Worse yet, sometimes we can’t even tell that we don’t know what we want and we start arguing for something that we don’t value or need or might actually reduce our quality of life. If this happens you have definitely jumped onto the conflict merry-go-round and although it’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of the ride and instinctively hold on for dear life, you are only going around in circles. Get off. 

Getting Clear

What do I really want? What makes sense for me? What is holding me back from saying what I really want? Only you know the answers to these questions. To find these answers you may need to dig around and it might get messy, but the answers are never *out there*, they are always *in here*.

Folks around you like to say what they think you should want or what they would want if they were in your shoes. There are also all those messages from childhood that continue to swim around in our heads telling us how it is and what to do. But how to reach through this sludge to find the nuggets of insight on the inside? Here are some ideas:

  1. Write it out. In a journal. In a poem. Haikus on your iPhone (I have a great collection of those). Morning Pages are a classic hit. When we write we can tell our story and the only audience that really matters – US – will be open and non-judgmental.
  2. Talk it out. Tell your mom, your brother, your friend, your boss, your therapist, your lover. Tell someone with a good ear and a caring disposition. Tell someone who likes you and doesn’t judge you. Tell someone who has confidence in you. Make sure you give back.
  3. Get mad, get sad. Stomping around and yelling when it is safe and private can be eternally useful (‘WHY DOESN’T HE UNDERSTAND??!! HOW THE HELL DID HE GET SO STUBBORN??!! I COULD JUST PUNCH HIM IN THE FACE!!’). So can crying and getting in touch with grief or disappointment (‘How come this always happens to me? I can’t take anymore of this. It’s so unfair.’). Let the feelings flow because they have an ancient wisdom that our thinking brains try to circumvent.
  4. Meditate. This one is new to me but I really like it. My best friend calls meditation her lifeline. I value the relaxation of it, because true thinking arises when our minds are at peace.
  5. Pray. For some this is a type of meditation. It’s all about aligning yourself with a higher purpose. Getting in touch with that has to be a good thing.
  6. Forget about it (AKA relax and have fun). Go bowling with the kids! Huck the football with a friend! Hike down by that cool creek on a hot day that you always think about when you are driving by the trailhead. The message here is similar to to ‘meditate': you will be better in touch with yourself and your best thinking when you are relaxed and happy.
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Safety in Diversity

During my work as a youth addictions counsellor, when I had questions about the union I belonged to my colleagues would frequently mention this man Greg (not his real name, of course, but I swear this guy would be the first person to say, “you can refer to me by my real name on your blog!”) who was the union representative for our organization. Every time Greg came up in conversation the tone of their talk would change dramatically and I inquired about this. The only thing they could say was, “He’s just such a character, so eccentric in his own way; you’ll understand when you meet him.”

Finally I met Greg when he visited our rural satellite office on union business one day. He was in his 60s  and tall, with thinning dyed-brown hair. He was dressed in sneakers, baggy pajama-style 80’s pants, t-shirt, leather jacket, and dark sunglasses. Greg reeked of cigarettes and he smiled easily with a big, sincere grin. He also exuded both confidence and compassion. Greg was clearly an expert on union affairs, so we shortly got down to business and he provided us with the information he had come to communicate. When we concluded our meeting Greg gave us all big hugs before he left.

I ended up working directly with Greg a few times and over recent years I’ve seen him occasionally. The last time I saw him he came to my office on union business and he was wearing actual pajama pants. When our meeting finished I walked Greg out to the reception area and gave him a tight hug. After he walked out the receptionist asked me, “was that one of your previous mental health clients?” When I explained who Greg was, a woman sitting in the waiting room overheard and exclaimed her disapproval of his “highly unprofessional” attire. “Didn’t you see his jacket?” I asked them, “It had the union logo on the front and back.” Neither of them had.

I’m pretty sure my work isn’t the only place where Greg stands out or raises some eyebrows. He is now in his late 60s and he does not conform to any of the norms in this neck of the woods for a male his age. Labels do not conveniently fit Greg, and because of this I feel safer.

In a world where people let their freak flag fly there is room for all of us to show ourselves.

I sing when I’m blasting down the ski hill. I am comfortable with crying in public. And ever since I was old enough to know what it was I have never wanted to be married. Are these things ‘normal’? My clothes and car may appear conventional but I know my perspective is uniquely my own. Sometimes, however, others feel threatened by my personal choices and the way I live.

Earlier this year a rumour circulated around town that I was “inappropriate” with teenagers. That was briefly scary for me, but the worst part was that I received the news from my son. I was upset that he heard someone thought his mom might be a predator of teens. The Boy was not confused about me in the least, but he was angry at the person who told him it might be true. Who starts a story like that?? Probably someone who can’t fathom why a woman could be completely content being single; probably someone who doesn’t think it’s possible for an adult female to have many close and playful relationships with male youth; probably someone who has a picture in their mind of what it means to be a 40 year-old woman and can’t accept evidence that contradicts this picture.

Last month I went on a real, live date with a man. The next day I was with my girlfriend at the dirt jumps and during a break I exclaimed to her, “I went on a date yesterday!” She replied, “Who is the lucky man? Or woman?” That last question filled my heart with encouragement. The fact that we were friends but she had never labeled me with a sexual orientation made me feel like it was safe for me to be whoever I was in this relationship. My friend accepted me whether I was straight, queer, or whatever!

Trying to cram someone into a certain type of box is conflict-inducing behaviour. Please leave it at home.

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