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  • Lori K Walters

When parenting teenagers, here's how to avoid the Pitfalls of over-accommodating them.

Updated: Mar 1

Lighthouse at sunset

Some parents are smooth-handed. When there are hints of conflict, rough seas or friction in their family, they smooth things over. Like gentle hands smoothing the wrinkled sheets while making the bed. When their children are having problems or arguing, they are there to smooth it over, soothe the upset, and restore peace and harmony.

Imagine being in your teens or twenties and having a parent who goes along with you most of the time. They don’t get in your face. They are very much ‘live and let live’. Sounds great right?

But there are pitfalls when a parent becomes overly accommodating. I’m not talking about general cooperation and flexibility. I’m referring to parents who regularly avoid conflict, minimize important issues or ignore what’s really happening, for the sake of keeping the peace.

The Problems

The trouble for that young adult is that, when conflict is avoided, they aren’t learning how to be with discord. Young adults need to express, assert, argue and learn how to work through differences. We need the next adults of this world to know how to negotiate, collaborate and tolerate.

And we want our kids to be able to stay present to all the feelings of conflict and stay connected to their core sense of themselves. We want them to have listening skills, especially when things are charged. They can only develop those skills by experiencing discord.

The problem for the smooth-handed parent is feeling diminished and unappreciated. They get tired of always stifling their opinions and stuffing down their emotions. They become resentful and often passive-aggressive.

To the outside world, they appear calm and easygoing. But on the inside, they are in pain trying to maintain constant peace. Each time they go along to get along, each time they smooth the wrinkles and don’t say what needs to be said, they feel the grief of disconnecting from themselves. They ignore their deepest parenting instincts for fear of causing a kerfuffle. They live with the pain of not expressing their essential selves.

Maybe you know someone like this, who has an easygoing approach with their kids and maintains a harmonious home.

Or maybe you recognize your own smooth-handedness. You’ve acquiesced too often to avoid fights. You’ve repeatedly postponed difficult discussions. You’ve let something go that was important to you for the sake of not rocking the boat. Most parents have behaved like this at one time or another.

Childhood Wounds

Many smooth-handed parents developed a strategy as a small child of staying out of the way. They sensed how things were and came to a conclusion that asserting themselves, getting angry or creating difficulties for their parents was not the way to go.

These little ones became skilled at registering others’ opinions, moods and ways of doing things, and they adapted themselves like chameleons. They learned that keeping the peace ensured, in average homes, being valued and appreciated and, in less healthy homes, keeping under the radar.

In adulthood, the pattern continued. You can imagine how these parents feel when conflict arises with their young adult child. It sends a wave of panic through them and activates their auto-pilot: Quick, do whatever it takes to smooth over the gap. Asserting themselves feels too risky.

It’s such a tricky loop to be caught in.

I know because I used to be that kind of parent (still am sometimes).

It used to feel impossible to endure disharmony with my kids. Arguments and standoffs caused me so much agitation that I felt like I would jump out of my own skin. I wanted - no, I needed - things to always be smooth between us.

Since then, I’ve been cultivating the ability to be with those very uncomfortable feelings, the edginess of disagreement, and the fear of not knowing what’s going to happen next.

When I can successfully stay in the discomfort, I have access to a space that a former version of myself would leap past. That earlier me, facing conflict, or even the potential for conflict, with my kids would do or say whatever was necessary to restore balance and harmony.

She would completely skip past the part of connecting with herself, her needs and what was really important to her in the moment. And she wouldn’t leave room for her child to do the same.

That Lori created some real problems in her family. When there was disagreement with her kids, she had two habitual responses:

1. The controlling drill sergeant. She got stern and demanding and seemed to believe that creating order, cleaning bedrooms or finishing homework, would expel the disharmony. Of course, it didn’t. It wasn’t peaceful for her kids as they got ordered around. And it wasn’t peaceful for her, caught there in an agitated, triggered reaction. Her heart closed off to her kids in those moments and she recognized a behaviour very similar to her mother’s. It was completely contrary to the kind of parent she wanted to be.

2. The agreeable pussy cat. Just give in. While amenability is a beautiful quality, giving in routinely only served to disconnect her from her own needs and instincts. Not speaking up for what was important to her left her feeling unseen, unheard and unappreciated. She was the one being too permissive, but she felt like her kids were walking all over her.

That was then.

Now I know what is offered by the disharmony. In that tension and not knowing, there is potential for something that we haven’t said or done before, something that brings me into better understanding and truer connection with my kids.

Because there are times when we are out of sync. They don’t like hearing something, or vice versa. We have contrary visions or our energies are mismatched.

Now I can stay with it.

How to Stay with the Discord

I thought I’d share a couple of the things I do to stay present and grounded when there is a disruption in my parenting world.

· Check for accuracy.

I have become pretty good at recognizing the panicked voice inside me that pipes up when there’s controversy or some kind of disturbance. It warns me that I might be hurt or lose something dear in the skirmish. It insists it’s my job to smooth things over so everyone, including me, will be ok.

But it's a voice that formed in my childhood. So I pause and ask: Am I really in danger? What feels like it’s at risk right now? And what I find, over and over, is that there is no immediate risk and I can relax a little.

To be honest, there was a time when I’d get so mad at this piercing voice. Now I have a deeper appreciation of this part of me that is well-attuned to what lies on the horizon. What a great job it has done of keeping me safe. Now I can hear it and question it. And then I bring myself back into what’s true in the present moment.

· Hold my tongue.

When I’m in conversation with one of my kids and start feeling that flutter - oh no, this is getting contentious - I put the tip of my tongue on the roof of my mouth just above my front teeth.

First, this is a great physical reminder that I’m about to be pushed toward an old pattern, drill sergeant or pussy cat, and feel a powerful urge to restore balance. I call up all that I’ve learned since those triggered, unresourceful days. Placing my tongue also allows energy to flow its full cycle through my body, up and down, front and back. I am more connected to myself and the light in me. And third, in the practicality of the moment, it prevents me from blurting out any words, whether they be to restore the peace prematurely, to protest or to avoid listening.

I hold my tongue and I trust that there will be space for what I need to say. Getting past reactivity and connecting with my honest opinion – the one I really want to express - takes time. And there is a perfect time for it to be said and the perfect time for it to be registered by my child in a way that nurtures for our relationship.

· Daily centering.

I have a qigong practice that heightens my awareness of the connection between my inner light and the universal divine light. The daily repetition supports me to connect to myself in unpeaceful situations. Instead of running and hiding, instead of absorbing the other people’s energies, instead of immediately activating my ability to bring peace to others – instead of all those automatic tendencies, I connect to the light in me. I allow myself to be held and guided by something that is bigger than this moment of tension.

And of course, that thing is Love.

With you on the journey,


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