If there’s one thing I hate, it’s parents who unconsciously abandon their teenagers but act like they aren’t. And I’m not talking about parents who actually leave; I have more compassion for parents who just can’t deal and are honest about it. I’m talking about parents whose walk doesn’t match their talk. That really frosts my cookies.
It breaks my heart when parents stop paying attention to their kids once those little ones become teens. But the worst for me is when parents don’t realize they are emotionally abandoning their teenagers and they spew excuses to justify their behaviour. Excuses like these:
- My kid is so independent; I don’t think I have much to add to her/his already-full life
- I try to spend time with her/him but s/he is always on the go and we are each busy with our own projects
- When I was her/his age I didn’t need my parents anymore either; this is normal
- I left home at 16 and I was ready. It was fine for me; I haven’t been negatively affected
But I believe what’s really going on for these parents is a mix of these three mindsets:
- My teenager is old enough to be left on her/his own now! Yay freedom!! There is so much stuff I back-burnered. I can’t wait to do all those things I put aside in the name of serving my kid(s)!
- I need a g-dang break from this over-a-decade-long, non-stop, burn-out-inducing parenting gig. Nobody has died so far, and it’s looking like nobody will, so I’m going to nap for a few years.
- Teenagers are strange creatures. I feel uncool when I hang around my kids and their friends and I don’t know how to talk with them anymore now that we don’t play Lego and tag. This reminds me of how awkward I felt when I was a teenager and I was desperate to be liked and my parents didn’t understand me – I actually don’t want to be reminded of any of that painful stuff. I’ll just check out and watch Netflix.
As Danielle LaPorte says:
What I’m preaching about is
1) waking up
2) so you can do the work
3) that needs to be done
4) to live in a world
5) we espouse to want to live in.
Let’s back that up and start at #5. What is the world you want to live in with your teenager? We routinely say that certain things are important to us: youth mental health, consistency with our parenting, treating our kids fairly, family mealtimes, personal self-care, fun and laughter, creating warm memories. So what do we need to do to live in that world? If we fail to grapple long enough with this question we fall into an integrity gap.
An integrity gap is that space that opens up when our behaviour is out of alignment with our values.
I can’t just do ‘what feels right’ as a parent, because sometimes my exhaustion or my overwhelm or my awkwardness is driving the bus and what feels right is playing hockey or getting drunk or flying to Sedona for a weekend with my sister or going to a knitting retreat. I cannot let feelings be my guide because feelings are always changing.
Feelings give us ENORMOUSLY IMPORTANT INFORMATION with which to make our parenting decisions. It is foolish to not use this data; always check in with your feelings and explore them.
But what needs to guide parenting are the conscious decisions we make about what kind of world we want to live in with our teen and what we are going to do to create that world. How are you going to wake up and do the work that needs to be done?
Here’s a place to start:
Your teenager still wants and needs to be close with you, even if it seems s/he is pushing you away. Do you wonder how to make the space for a deeper relationship with the teens in your life? Here are some ideas and here are some more.
I’m reading a book right now called Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time. Here’s a relevant gem:
“For relationships to move forward and upward, you must have fierce affection for the other person. You must have genuine curiosity about what is going on with that person at any given time. You must have an insatiable appetite for learning more every day about who he or she is and where he or she wants to go and how this does or does not mesh with who you are and where you want to go. And all of this is helped significantly by your willingness to occasionally set aside all of the topics ping-ponging inside your own head and simply be with this other person, here and now.”
Find the fierce affection and genuine curiosity you have for your teenager. Dig deep and bring that shit into the light.
In the comments below, tell me one or two of your most important parenting values 🙂