Parenting Tweens and Teens - Always
a Changing Game
Is it just me or is 24 hours really not as long as it used to be? And what about our kids? They're growing up at warp speed. Probably a blessing we're all too busy to notice them morphing into young adults before our eyes, otherwise how scary would that be? Of course, when it comes to other people's kids, you can't miss the changes, but with our own... most of us have a terminal case of blind spots. Unfortunately, turning a blind eye to reality isn't the most effective way to parent.
Life is all about change and our ability to deal with it. Our bodies, our feelings, our kids, our relationships, our life situation... all constantly changing. (So are all the molecules on your kitchen table, but we can save that for another time.) The more I meditate and breathe and read and write and think and teach, the clearer the changing nature of life becomes. The more I twist my torso into improbable positions (Hey, it's not painful, it's yoga!) the more I learn how flexibility is the best tool I've got going for me.
"Steady in the winds of change," my yoga teacher says. Steady as she goes. Steady, strong, centered. Those are the keystones to effective parenting. But steady doesn't mean "stuck" and true strength requires insight into what's needed right now.
Suppose you've always had a close relationship with your 12-year-old daughter. She's been a kid who's never held back from telling you everything she thinks and feels. You've prided yourself on the closeness you two share and how relationship reflects so positively on your parenting skills. Then one day you walk past her room and the door's closed. You go in. She's listening to music and reading. "Hi Dad," she grins, not removing her headphones.
You sit on the bed. "Hi, sweetheart. So tell me, what's new with you?"
An awkward silence follows.
"You want something, Dad?"
You shake your head and slowly walk toward the door. "Dad," your daughter says sweetly, "Next time could you please knock?"
"Sure, honey," your smile belies the ice pick skewering your heart. In the hallway your mind reels. Why should I have to knock at my own child's door?! We've never had closed doors between us! She must be hiding something. I'm going back in there and demand that she tell me what's going on. I couldn't talk to my father about anything that really mattered, so I'm going to make damn sure that my daughter...
What's going on here? Is this about your 12-year-old's normal desire for some privacy and respect or is it about your own fear that your relationship with your child is changing into... who knows what?
Should you zig or zag? If you zig only because it's how you've always reacted when you're hurt then you're not paying attention to your child's needs. Nor are you awake to the parenting challenge in front of you. An unwillingness to change in spite of changes happening all around is a sure-fire formula for unhappiness. The result will be internal struggles and plenty of ongoing conflicts with your ever-changing tween or teen.
What to do? How about going for a walk? An actual walk is great if you can swing it, but any conscious choice to take a head-clearing break will help. While you're in the self-imposed time out ask yourself:
What does my child need from me now? It's an essential question whenever you feel stuck in your parenting mission. Children's behavior at any time, any age, broadcasts a need. Your job is to identify their need as accurately as possible then offer your help. Of course, there's no formula that will always work because their needs constantly change. One moment she'll need a hug and an encouraging word. Another moment he'll need a sympathetic ear and no words from you at all. One time they'll need you to set clear limits with unambiguous consequences for noncompliance. Another time they'll need you to respect the meaning of a closed door without taking it personally.
Where do your needs as a parent come in? That depends. You're absolutely within your rights to have your role, your values, your rules and your property respected. Those are valid needs. But when you need to be needed by your child or you need to use your child to look good in the eyes of others, that's unhealthy. Always be an adult and take care of your own changing needs as best as you can. Your kids have a big enough job growing up and learning to take care of themselves without having to take care of you too.
Change is our constant companion on this journey we call life. Our kids are the clearest evidence of that. They're rapidly developing into the independent young adults. As parents we're privileged to have an essential role in their unfolding. If we pay close attention we get to witness parts of the process. We also have the honor of helping them become who they are. Part of the reward is an opportunity to learn and grow along with them.
It's a new year. Change is the air we breathe. The best we can do for ourselves and our family is to remain as steady as possible. It also helps to keep your eyes, your mind, and your heart open. That's what our kids need most from us.
Annie Fox, M.Ed. is an award winning author, educator, and online adviser for parents and teens. AnnieFox.com
Read excerpts from her books: Too Stressed to Think? and the new Middle School Confidential™ series. Download (free) her entire book:Teen Survival Guide to Dating & Relating.
Listen to her podcast series "Family Confidential: Secrets of Successful Parenting" FamilyConfidential.com.