On the weekend my son and I were booting up at the ski hill, getting ready to go for a few runs, and we were talking about our Easter Dinner plans for the following evening. The Boy is going to his dad’s house for a big potluck meal with family and friends, and I am going to my boyfriend’s house where I know I will be the main attraction for his niece and nephew. The Boy said, “I think it’s weird that you have such a passion for young people. I mean, regular people have a passion for their art or their sport or decorating or something. You are super focused on kids and teenagers. I have never seen anyone else like you.”

I can see his point. I am a bit unique. But I know I am not alone. The Boy has less experience in this lifetime than I do, so he has not had the opportunity to meet some of the hyper dedicated folks I have. I can think of teachers and youth pastors and others who serve kids like it is their calling, the reason they were put on this earth. Like the dude in the TED talk I watched last week who said, “The two most powerful days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you discover why.”

I know that serving young people and their parents is the work I am meant to do. For me it is profoundly connected to my sense of justice ; I want to see a world where all people can have their needs met, no matter what age they are.

But really, what do you care? You are not here to read my views on the needs of children. You are here because you want some inspiration and information to help you have a better parenting experience with your teenager. And that’s fine! I don’t care if your passion is for nursing or office administration or ecology instead of the youth in your community.

But it makes me really sad when I hear about parents who don’t even have a passion for their own children.

One teenage girl I have mentored for a number of years, we will call her Monica, has struggled for ages in her relationship with her parents. Currently she is living away from the family home, but she doesn’t have a job or any money and she is couch surfing with friends. The story I hear from Monica (only her perspective) is that her parents are upset and angry that she can’t find a job and they don’t like her just hanging around the house watching TV. And sometimes smoking pot. Monica says that she prefers to live precariously rather than having to field her parents’ disappointment and criticism.

When Monica and I talk about her situation she cries and tells me she feels lost and unsupported. She wishes that her parents would pay for her to go to the college she wants to study in the field she has chosen (filmmaking). She has told me she wishes she could live with me because I actually seem to like teenagers.

I know for sure that Monica’s parents love her deeply, but what’s important about this story is that Monica doesn’t feel their love. It doesn’t matter one bit if we love our offspring to the moon and back if they can’t tell.

And then there is my good friend Carol who tells me about the group of affluent, sporty couples they socialize with who like to go on hiking adventures in Europe. Carol and her husband would rather do family travel with their two teenage daughters, yet their friends are relentless with the narrative about how all their teens are ‘just fine’ and ‘love to have the house to themselves’. Carol and I wondered out loud over the weekend, “why do these people have children if they don’t enjoy being with them?”

We all have feelings sometimes like we don’t like this whole parenting trip, and we even fight with feelings of not liking our kids. Please don’t think you are the only person in the world who has these struggles. It’s not actually a lack of ‘passion’ for our teenagers that is the problem; however, the difficulties tend to stem from 4 sources:

  1. We feel incredibly burnt out. This situation is extremely difficult to address when we aren’t consciously aware of it. Many times we are burned almost to a crisp before we think, ‘I might be getting a little burned out…’ Our first clues can be fleeting and/or repeating thoughts like, ‘It’s all too much,’ or ‘Life is too big of a stressful juggle,’ or ‘I am completely exhausted.’
  2. We feel incredibly discouraged. Again, we are almost powerless to correct this situation when we aren’t consciously aware of how we feel. Many parents won’t let themselves notice the depths of their discouragement because they are afraid of feeling that bad, and afraid that if they feel the profound discouragement they will get lost in the black hole of it all. We push on, bravely ignoring our despair, making the household function. And we sacrifice ourselves a little bit in the process. Here is how it might sound in your mind: ‘Parenting is f*cking difficult!’ or ‘I have tried everything with this kid!’ or ‘It doesn’t make a difference what approach I take with my teen.’ or ‘This job is way too hard.’ Or simply ‘I am sinking…’
  3. We are parenting the way we were parented. This means that part of us is just going through the motions. It’s like parenting on auto-pilot. We tell ourselves that we turned out okay, so if we do this parenting teens gig the way it was done to us, it probably won’t be a failure. Yet we might not necessarily be parenting in a way that our teenager needs to be parented. We need to regularly ask ourselves: Who is my teen? How is s/he different from me? What does s/he really need or want? What is important to this person as an individual separate from me and the rest of the family? What developmental stages is s/he working on right now?
  4. Our parents had some fatalistic ideas/feelings while raising us. It’s not our fault, but we absorbed the attitudes of our folks, and now they are part of us and they seep into the parenting we do today. This is simply how learning happens; people learn dumb, useless things all the time without their consent. These fatalistic ideas sound like: That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change. Teens will be teens, there’s nothing we can do about it. Kids were way better behaved in my day. Our parents might have had an unconscious attitude that parenting is a difficult endeavour and you just brace yourself until it’s over and you can enjoy your grandkids instead.

There is no simple cure for the heartache of not liking our teenager or not liking parenting. These situations are obviously complex. But every relationship we have with another human, even our child, is a spiritual mission whether we choose to accept it or not.

Our first steps out of the confusion will involve awareness and acceptance. We can’t change parenting on auto-pilot or feelings of discouragement and exhaustion and overwhelm if we can’t tell they are happening. We have to be able to notice our feelings and notice the reality of the situation before we have any power to act.

Talk to your private journal. Talk to yourself in moments of self-reflection. Talk to a trusted friend. Talk to a therapist. You could even talk to me in the comments below. I would love it if you did.

 

 

 

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