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  • Lori K Walters

Being honest with yourself about how you're contributing to the difficulty in your relationship with your teen.

Updated: Apr 24


Large oak tree in a field at sunrise


“My son isn't speaking to me at all,” she said. “If I knock on his bedroom door, he yells Go away. When he comes into the kitchen, he avoids eye contact, gets some food and leaves. I know I’ve made some big mistakes and it's obvious that I need to make some big changes."


This was an email from a mom I started coaching a few months ago. It's the kind of message I love receiving because, when someone can recognize that what they're doing isn't working, they are ready for change. I knew I could help her.


As we started into her coaching journey, she found it really difficult to be honest with herself about her behavior. Even though, deep down, she knew that it was making things worse, it was hard to admit.


Her current approach to her son, which we called the way of the Well-Meaning Window Washer, was constantly downplaying his complaints and making things shiny and clean. When he said the world was giving him a hard time, her first reaction was to straighten him out and give him a broader perspective.


But when I asked her how exactly she did that, it was difficult for her to say out loud. The Window Washer part of her circumvented the question, excused her behavior, amended how often it happens and stumbled to find the words.


 


Maybe you can relate to that. I sure can. I've done and said things to my kids that I didn't want to admit, not even to myself.


Looking at our own patterns and seeing things we don't like is hard. Guilt comes creeping in and we don’t want anyone to know what we’ve been doing. Then there’s the shame about not being able to do a better job of parenting and for doing things we said we'd never do (back when we didn't know how much parenting would bring up our old triggers and wounds).


And with the prospect of such guilt and shame, it’s no wonder you don't want to look at the areas in which we need to adjust our approach. What happens if you find out that you're actually defective in some way? That you haven't got what is needed to properly support this kid? What if you get confirmation that you’re a bad parent? That’s a real fear, for ALL of us. 


As this mother and I waded into the icky swamp she was standing in and as she felt the sacred space that was being held for her, she was able to honestly admit out loud that part of her was dismissing her son’s feelings and experiences, saying, “Your life is not that hard. You're blowing it out of proportion. You should be grateful for how easy your life is.”


When these words came out of her mouth, it was a pivotal moment.

Such a release, a full body-and-soul exhale.

The door to change opened.


 



So how do we go about looking at things we’d rather not look at?



1 With self-compassion


You are not defective. There's nothing wrong with having a deep desire to give your teenager a different perspective. Or trying to protect them from heartbreak. Or making it crystal clear that their behavior is not acceptable.


Turn off the parent-shaming social media and veiled comments from friends, teachers and family. You’re not a bad parent for coming up against your own stuff. This IS the territory that we parents of teens and young adults live in.


It’s ok to acknowledge that you sometimes get triggered, lose your temper over small things, clam up when your voice is really needed or blame others for your upset.


This is building self-awareness. It’s not about berating yourself for capabilities or perspectives you don't have yet. This is developing your ability to see yourself, right where you are right now.


And if you’re doing this at all, you’re doing well as a parent. Very well.


So, view yourself with your best consideration and talk to yourself kind-heartedly. Give yourself the understanding you’ve given others when they were learning new skills, perhaps the compassion you wished you had as a child. 


 


2 Trusting the data


Consider this: You ask your daughter to put her dishes in the dishwasher for the umpteenth time. She rolls her eyes and dumps them in, loudly and haphazardly.  How would a video camera have recorded what you did next? Did you lean forward or back? Did you huff or remain silent? Did you glare or look away? How did it actually go down?


Developing your ability to see your role in a dynamic includes setting aside your opinions and interpretations and focusing on the facts of what’s actually happening between you two. Stick to neutral observations of your behavior - the what, where, when and who. Trust the hard data.


 


3 Interrupting the stories


 With each occurrence in your day, your mind immediately starts categorizing it as pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. That’s its job.


If it’s left uninterrupted, it will start analyzing, giving the incident a score of 1 to 10 and trying to find the ‘why’. And before you know it, your mind has you justifying your behavior, blaming others, exaggerating, amending things here and there and, you know, creating a story.


A story.


A story you tell yourself, nicely classified, labelled and filed. Whether it’s accurate or not. “She was disrespectful. She doesn’t care about what I need. She thinks I’m unreasonable.” Those are stories. See them for what they are and interrupt the story-spinning.


 


4 Being with fear


Being honest with yourself involves allowing yourself to feel some fear – fear you’re a bad parent, fear of not being good enough, fear of others’ judgements, fear of having messed it all up, fear of losing your kid...


Make room for the fear to rise in you. Feel its energy moving. Breathe, chant, scream, sob – do what you must to let it come to its fullness, the crest of the wave. You won’t perish. Allow it to move through you. Don’t brace yourself and don’t hold it captive in you. Exhale, exhale again and move with it.


As the swelling and crashing subside, listen for the message this fear brings. What does it show you about being honest with yourself?





Change is about space.


When you admit that you do engage in a particular behavior, that you’re not a bad person because you learned or adapted to this behavior and that it’s not actually meeting the need you want it to meet, then you feel the space to explore new possibilities and make new choices. This is the spark for shifting into a behaviour that actually meets your needs – and in a way that's in alignment with who you are and the relationship you want with your big kid. 


When you refuse to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “This is just the way I am”, you keep yourself stuck, circling the same loop, up to your knees in icky muck or pushing against a brick wall. And every time your son says he's having a hard time coping, you’ll tell him it's not so bad and widen the chasm between you.


When you admit to yourself how you're contributing to the distance in your relationship, you create space for the emergence of something new from within you. When you are honest about old ways, you create space for new ones. 


The moment you acknowledge those behaviors, change is afoot.


 


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Photo by Simon Wilkes on Unsplash

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