Truth be told, I was experiencing a lot deeper issues than just normal parenting fear when I made the decision to get help. My children were really great kids. They were loving, fun and funny and well behaved. Developmentally they were doing extremely well: very social, healthy and active. Other than a lot of bickering over nothing, my husband and I for the most part, were getting along well too. Our social calendar was always filled with events. My life looked great to many on the outside. However, internally I was going through a very challenging time. I had just turned 50 so a big part of me wanted to (and did) blame my unhappiness on menopause. Yet intuitively, I knew there was more than that. The unhappiness that I felt was something of a recurrent theme. But before I share with you how I overcame that challenge, I want to share with you how you, too, can have the same kind of connected relationships with your teenagers and be able to help them navigate the so-called challenging teenage years.
The first and most eye-opening lesson I learned was about their emotional wellness. Like most caring and loving parents, I often think about and focus on providing my kids with basic needs: food, clothing, shelter and safety. These needs in and of themselves, require a great deal of work, yet, they are only one half of the “needs” equation. The other half, which is more important in the creation of a successful, happy and fulfilling life, has to do with their emotional needs. We all tend to parent our children the way we were parented or not parented, depending upon how we feel about our own parents’ parenting skills. There are no formal training, education and/or tools given; just family pass down teachings and beliefs. And here’s the kicker, while we all try our best, we are often being judged and criticized by everyone from strangers to friends and even from our very own family members.
I think it’s safe for me to say that we all want a lot for our children. We want them to be happy and successful, and also caring and kind and generous. We want them to be strong and able to think and speak for themselves. We want them to be confident and proud of whom they are. We want them to be able to provide for their family some day. We try to create a solid foundation of faith for them and want them to live their lives with high moral standards and integrity. Our desire for our children to have safety and security carries as much weight as our desire for them to experience joy and happiness and be productive citizens in their community. We want them to have meaningful connections and rewarding relationships with others. We want them to have a loving and supportive partner, good friends, nice neighbors and cooperative colleagues at work. Yet, on a day-to-day basis, we seem to focus solely on telling them what to do, when to do it and how to do it. We try to give them whatever they ask for then we compare their awesome life (awesome because they have everything!) to ours when we were growing up and give them lectures on how they need to be more grateful. Because we look at them with our adult eyes, we often fail to see that they are teenagers who are trying to do their best to manage their own emotions, navigate their awkwardness while trying to develop relationships and create social circles, learning new skills and expanding their minds. And because we are impatient, we try to make decisions for them, or at least influence their choices and expect them to meet our timelines and to fit in to our plans.
When our kids do what we told them to, we feel that our lives are in order. When they meet our timelines, we feel respected and when they do things the exact ways we told them to, we feel listened to. It is a hard pill to swallow when I came to this realization: my husband and I wanted our boys to be a better version of our younger selves and not the best version of who they are and where they are in their development. Without realizing it, what we want them to do and what we do for them represents in a way the desire we have to meet our own emotional needs.
It took several sessions for me to grasp the idea that if we want our kids to be strong and able to think and speak for themselves, then we need to allow them to speak up to us. This is not to say that they have carte blanche, but rather we give them permission with limits and boundaries. For example, I often tell the boys, “I would like to know your thoughts about this subject.” Or “No matter what the outcome is, we need to be respectful to each other. We don’t have to agree with one another, but we do need to hear what the other person has to say.” There are many lessons being taught in allowing your child to do this. First and foremost, it meets his needs for power and importance. Secondly, it promotes independent thinking. When you do it with love and support and with the understanding that your home is the training ground, it also gives your child a safe environment to share her ideas and listen to others. Additionally, you are preparing them to fight off potential bullies and sexual predators. Kids who push back and speak for themselves are not usually picked on. When I shifted my parenting focus away from obedience and put it on self-sufficiency, my kids began to be more assertive and cooperative.
There are five more emotional needs that I will be talking about in future posts. Until then, happy parenting!